Reports suggest at least six people, including two children, have been killed after a group of 500 men went on a sorcery hunt in Madang province.
The PNG government has vowed to stamp out sorcery killings, and this latest attack was the worst to be reported for a year, when again a number of people were killed in Madang.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Reverend Jack Urame, director, Melanesian Institute, PNG; Associate professor Richard Eves, State, Society & Governance in Melanesia Program, Australian National University
EVES: It's a very shocking attack but I think these things have been going on quite regularly for many years now. Certainly I was in the Highlands in December last year and I heard a report following the death of a politician in Chimbu where 30 people were actually killed and there not much movement in terms of prosecution or even public awareness of that event. So it is very shocking. I guess one thing that's quite shocking is that these are almost Highlands style attacks happening in the coastal areas. Whereas in the past they're much more of an isolated incident in the coast where maybe one or two would be killed. But actually it is very much like the sorts of responses in the eastern Highlands where there's large style warfare that generates from the death of somebody from allegedly sorcery, and various villages will respond by attacking another. So it is very much like the sort of warfare that generates around these attacks in the Highlands.
EWART: We are joined now by Reverend Jack Urame, Director of the Melanesian Institute, Reverend thanks for joining us on Pacific Beat. What is your take on these reports emerging from Madang? This of course is going to bring more international bad publicity for Papua New Guinea, and surely more pressure on the government?
URAME: Yes definitely sure I think people continue to undertake sorcery killings because I think the (inaudible) is very, very strong, even I think despite some attempts by the churches and the government I think it's very, very limited. So people continue to take the law into their own hands and because there is so much I think also social stress because of new changes coming in and a lot of people are dying because of lifestyle decisions and so on so I think there is very little time for improvement where people can explain thing in a logical way but I think continue to believe also, and therefore I think the number of killings is increasing.
EWART: Richard Eves the sheer scale of the problem that the government in Papua New Guinea faces here is hard to measures isn't it, because we are talking about trying to change a culture, albeit a culture which most people would find abhorrent, it's been established for centuries and dealing with it by just legal matters is not really going to solve the problem, is it?
EVES: Well i think that's true, there's much more need for a holistic solution to this. But I think there's also, it needs to be made clear that it's not necessarily just tradition that is unchanging, there's a lot of new dimensions to this in terms of who's being targetted, the nature of the attacks. I think in the past and certainly in many places in the Highlands there was some sort of stops on the extent to this, people were actually allowed to confess rather than being killed. But now it's sort of taken on a new dimension where it's quite brutal torture and invariably deaths of many people. And I think also there is a general awareness that these things are spreading to areas where they weren't previously, certainly in the Highlands there's lots of instances where people will talk about how witchcraft has spread to an area where it wasn't previously. So the actual nature of the problem is quite different from what it used to be. And I think you're very right, it does need to be confronted on on a number of levels, certainly it needs to be confronted on the law and justice side, which for example when we look at the Madang case, 180 people were arrested and in the case last year of Kapari Leniata who was burnt alive in Mount Hagan, 100 people were arrested. But in that case nobody has been tried yet, there's been no prosecution, and I think that will happen in the case of Madang, 180 people have been arrested, but we'll see whether there'll actually be any prosecution, because there's been a real failure by the state to follow through on some of these arrests in a number of situations. It doesn't really help, it basically means people are acting with impunity.
EWART: If I can pick up that point with you Reverend Urame, Richard Eves is talking there about the fact that people have been arrested but they haven't been put on trial, they haven't been brought to justice, surely that is one very important signal that needs to be sent out by the government. If they're going to crack down on these killings then they have to be seen to be cracking down on them?
URAME: Yes definitely I think when the members of the community support each other and sometimes they don't collaborate or support the police in the investigation, and therefore when the community's involved the police are unable to send the whole community into prison or to prosecute them, because I think a lot of people in the community normally do not support them, if there is and kind of sorcery happening, becaues the kind of social structure that we have, clan structure or private structure that we have, we need to support each other, and so this is the more traditional approach to try to help people and to protect each other. And so with this legal approach then the police can take people to prison or prosecute them. If they don't come forward and give witness of what they see or what they hear. And so they hide at the back so it is very, very difficult, even the number of policemen on the ground is not many and sometimes there are a lot of factors preventing their investigation like interpretations aznd actions and so on. And so sometimes it's very difficult here.
EWART: But faced with the reports coming out of Madang in recent days, certainly people looking at Papua New Guinea from outside the country, and as you're well aware there's been a lot of international publicity about these sorcery killings in recent times, and one recent documentary that was made that's been seen around the world, which has highlighted this problem, people will look and they'll say well nothing has changed, the situation in Papua New Guinea is exactly as it was a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago?
URAME: Yeah I think the situation is not improving and that's very, very true, because there is very little awareness, very little education at the level of the community and very little collective approach or holistic approach, and therefore I think we are not very seriously addressing it. We talk about it and the churches are talking about it and the government is also talking about it and trying to address this from the legal perspective, but I see very little awareness. People you know live in isolation, there is very little development taking place, their services are breaking down and so people are more isolated and therefore I think they continue to hold onto their beliefs and take things into their own hands by killing each other when people die or people are sick, etc. And so in my view there is little improvement. In Madang for example there was not so much killing in the past, we heard of such practices, there was ... about it and research done, but I think there were not so many killings. But today I think that the number of killings is increasing very, very dramatically. Therefore I think a holistic approach is very, very necessarily important. For me the community should be involved, the government should be involved, the churches should be involved, I think every sector should be involved in addresing this. A legal approach is very important and also more awareness and also I think more education.