UNHCR condemns sorcery killings in Pacific | Pacific Beat

UNHCR condemns sorcery killings in Pacific

UNHCR condemns sorcery killings in Pacific

Updated 8 March 2013, 18:58 AEDT

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has used International Women's Day to condemn the recent torture and killing of a young woman in Papua New Guinea accused of scorcery.

The 20-year-old was reportedly stripped naked, beaten and burned alive about a month ago, by relatives of a six year old boy who accused her of trying to use socery to kill him.

The UNHCR says there's a growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of people accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.

And the Agency says it could have happened in other parts of the Pacific.

Presenter:Bruce Hill

Speaker: UNHCR's regional representative Dr Nancy Robinson

ROBINSON: Yes, and our call would be then that this not be a one time movement that authorities focus attention on cases that too often occur, too frequently occur, because there is the limelight or international media has focused on them. We're calling on the states to assume their obligations under international human rights law, to protect these women and also to prosecute those that have murdered these women and bring them, treat them under international, national law. In otherwords, to many times in these cases, there's a pattern of impunity where they are not brought to justice and the women themselves have no recourse, no support, no medical or psycho-social treatment and no remedies are provided to the victims. So we're asking that access to justice for these women be improved and the states, they need to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law.

HILL; Do we have any really accurate idea of how widespread this is, because I imagine this kind of phenomenon can happen out of sight, out of mind, within families and nobody necessarily reports this to the authorities?

ROBINSON: Yes, that is a problem. The High Commissioner for Human Rights for that reason has begun to train human rights Defenders Networks, Women's Human Rights Defenders Networks, to begin to support women in access to justice in Papua New Guinea. And you're absolutely right, I think the scale of this violence is unknown. We have one estimate from the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea which has estimated that as many as 150 people are accused of sorcery, mostly women, and are murdered each year in just one of the country's 20 provinces. So we do make a call to raise awareness of this through education and to create legislation and policy net frameworks to protect victims and also to provide the protection that many of these women need. We also insist that investigations should be taking place, to charge and prosecute the perpetrators and that remedies be provided for the victims.

HILL; Western European societies went through their witch craze through the 16th and 17th Century and again, even then, it was almost exclusively aimed at women. So is this gender-based violence or is this to do with sorcery or is it to do with women?

ROBINSON: Well, it's linked to gender-based violence. Of course, the majority of the women, of the sorcerers that are killed have been, according to our information, women. And so we can tend to say it is linked to gender-linked violence.

The special rapporteur on violence against women, it's causes and consequences went on an official visit to Papua New Guinea in March, 2012. And she noted the alarming reports of violence against women, as well as a lack of action to address the phenomenon. And her report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June of this year 2013.

HILL: Now, I understand that the UNHCR believes that these sort of attacks are increasing. Do you know why that might be?

ROBINSON: We are looking into that and we have commissioned a study on sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea, particularly, which is where the violent deaths have occurred to raise awareness but to also understand the roots of the phenomenon. And we also are collaborating on a conference that will take place in the Australian National University in Canberra, on sorcery and witchcraft-related killings in Melanesia, to understand further by joining together back at the missions, policymakers, human rights activists and to dialogue on around this issue. So there is a need for further research and the research that can provide the evidence for policy and reform.

HILL: We're talking about Papua New Guinea here, but is this a problem in other parts of the Pacific as well?

ROBINSON: Papua New Guinea is where we have seen the most murders, the violent killings of women and therefore we intervene to address first off in witchcraft because of that in that context. These are deaths, and these are murders of women.

Throughout the world, there have been these practices, but our interest is really to protect the lives of women, or those accused of sorcery. And therefore it's a global phenomenon and we find it in every corner of the world.

HILL: On another matter, what is the UNHCR's view about the Fiji police banning the "Reclaim the Night" marches in Fiji today?

ROBINSON: Well, I'm not going to comment on that at this moment. I know this issue has been raised among colleagues today.

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