Speaker:Reverend Jack Urame, director, Melanesian Institute
URAME: At the end of the conference, we all agreed that the government should increase the presence of police and then give more power to the village courts in the cases of sorcery and mistrust in the villages and in the community, and also the community should benefit and the community should come up with their own community laws and also to come up with community policy strategy out to react in a positive way in times of crisis like sickness and death in the community.
EWART: But isn't there a danger in allowing the community to have a say in all this, that what we might have is the status quo, because in essence, isn't that what's already happening, isn't in the community taking control and that's why we're getting these attacks?
URAME: Yeah, I think. When sorcery and witchcraft cases occur in communities it's always that tribe or the clan or the big communities behind the anger killings and the accusations and therefore the presence of police is very important, because at the moment, we realise that the government has only an insufficient number of policemen and in the rural communities, there are no policemen or there is a lot of presence of police, and then that is why the problem is escalating because there is no controling of the issues at the moment.
EWART: But it has been suggested has it not that some of the incidents, that the police stood back, they were there, stood back and allowed these incidents to unfold. So how do you deal with that particular issue and it may well be that the police themselves believe in sorcery?
URAME: There is a fact behind, because the police themselves believe in the systems of the existence of power of sorcery and witchcraft and they can't do anything because the communities believe. It's very difficult to prosecute and arrest the community, because you can't just bring in and arrest anybody, so it's always the young people who are now claiming authority and control in the community and the traditional leaders are overpowered. They stand there, but they are very helpless at times.
EWART: Now, to what degree do you think the problem is being exacerbated by the fact that educated people, some in high places, I believe are themselves believers in sorcery. So when we talk about the argument about education improving the situation, it appears even those who have a good education still believe in something which the rest of the world's thinks is just outdated?
URAME: Yeah, I think many people believe in sorcery and education (inaudible) in the belief system, because (INAUDIBLE) the existence in sorcery and even the medical workers, doctors and nurses that believe in the power of sorcery and sometimes they refer to as the seed? of the people. In Pidgin they call it 'the sick room plas' when people come with ...? hospitals, so they refer them back and that is really indicating how deeply the belief is rooted in the traditional belief system. And also I think people in high offices in the government and officers or in big companies, who uneducated, who have some kind of exposes to Western scientific knowledge and education they made awareness and they made knowledge and therefore the belief in sorcery continue to exist and therefore accusation increases every time.
EWART: To come back to the point you made about having more police on the ground. Isn't the simple fact though that there just aren't enough police officers in Papua New Guinea to deal with the situations that face them and unless they can recruit more officers from somewhere, it's going to be very difficult to have more. If you don't have them, how can you put them around?
URAME: Yeah, that is difficult. I think that the police department has also indicated at a social conference last week that they are planning to recruit more to increase their numbers in the rural communities and another way of approaching this one is to give more power to what they call village court or officers, the village court peace officers and village court magistrates, because they are not really empowered enough to in approach to sorcery and witchcraft issues. So they can be I think promoted or increase the level and given police uniform and give some kind of maybe empowerment out to react to sorcery issues in the communities.
EWART: And what do you think about the line that the government is taking here that they are reactivating capital punishment in Papua New Guinea. They say the reason they're doing that is to act as a deterrent, not just in the case of sorcery attacks, but in terms of violent crime in general. Will that make any difference?
URAME: I don't think that definitely will make a difference, because in Papua New Guinea, people live in tribal communities. If the government pull the trigger and take the life of one person, the community will retaliate and react and the community will resort instead in violence. And so I don't think this will work, because you can't remove the belief by just imposing the penalty on people, because the belief is deep rooted. The biggest question and the biggest challenge for me is how we approach in order to change the mindset, change the value of the people, eliminate completely the belief.
EWART: And that is the most difficult part of all, isn't it. I mean how do you change a culture which is entrenched over many hundreds of years?
URAME: That I think is the biggest challenge, because people have the right to believe in what they believe and so but I think after we change the way they report sickness and death and that in times of crisis like that in the community. Because I think we have to do more awareness and we have to do I think more education, so the people see things and interpret things in a different way, because we continue to put cultural lenses when we experience crisis in the communities. So we have to put I think the scientific lens as well, because that is what is lacking.
EWART: So in short, I mean despite some positives that have come out of the conference that was held over three days in Goroka. I mean the reality is that we are likely, maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year to see more of these attacks. They're not going to stop, because to many people believe in the sorcery issue?
URAME: Yeah, that is correct. Accusation and killing will continue as long as we don't take any kind of proactive approach, because now we recommended to the government that that matter should be taken by the AUC. The government should at least give some kind of maybe clear direction how the policemen should react and how the cases of sorcery should be handled.
Now, what we looked at was generally what we can do to the violence related to the belief, but not actually the belief. That is something that is for many people is rooted and it will continue and killing will continue to increase every year.