UN urges Papua New Guinea to take action after woman burned alive for witchcraft

8 February 2013

The United Nations human rights office today urged the Government of Papua New Guinea to take concrete action following reports that a 20-year-old woman accused of sorcery was burnt alive in front of a crowd, noting that this is the latest in a “growing pattern” of such attacks.

“We urge the Government to put an end to these crimes and to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice through thorough, prompt and impartial investigations in accordance with international law,” Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a news conference in Geneva.

OHCHR was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the killing of Kepari Leniata, which took place in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, on 6 February, said Ms. Pouilly.

According to reports, Ms. Leniata was burnt alive in front of a crowd by relatives of a six-year-old boy whom she was accused of using sorcery to kill, while attempts by law enforcement officials to intervene failed.

“We note with great concern that this case adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea,” Ms. Pouilly said.

She called on the authorities to demonstrate their political will in concretely addressing the issue through a multi-pronged approach.

“We urge the Government to take urgent action to prevent further cases through education, to provide protection to persons accused of sorcery and witnesses of sorcery-related killings, and to provide medical and psychosocial treatment for victims.”

Ms. Pouilly noted that the country’s Constitutional Law Reform Commission, whose report has yet to be presented to Parliament, has held consultations to review the Sorcery Act – which contains the crime of sorcery – and has stated that it should be repealed.

“In the light of the heinous crime which has been committed, we encourage the authorities to hasten the process to strengthen the legal response to such killings,” she stated.


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