Hon Dr. Alan Marat
Minister of Justice
Department of Justice
Government of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Dear Minister Marat,
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch write concerning recent reports of sorcery-related killings of women in the highlands provinces of Papua New Guinea. We urge the government to ensure that these cases are investigated and prosecuted. We also urge the government to conduct public awareness campaigns to discourage vigilante killings, to address misconceptions that HIV is linked to sorcery, and to educate members of the public about lawful ways in which complaints can be raised with the relevant authorities.
According to news reports, a woman was stripped naked, gagged, and burned alive by a group of men at Kerebug Dump in Mount Hagen on January 6, 2009. Provincial police commanders in two highlands provinces, Eastern Highlands and Chimbu, have also told journalists that there were more than 50 sorcery-related killings in their provinces in 2008. These killings are part of a larger problem of violence against women and girls that, according to our research and that of others, is pervasive and rarely punished. In particular, we have found that police often ignore complaints or demand money or sex from victims.
We note with appreciation strong statements on violence against women by government officials in the last two years. In particular, we note Police Commissioner Baki's promise in November 2008 to do everything in his power to reduce or end domestic and sexual violence, and to use police systems and procedures to end violence against women by successfully investigating, prosecuting, and punishing offenders. We believe this tragic case offers an opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to eliminate violence against women.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also call on the government to act in similar cases in which responsible persons have not been brought to justice, as impunity for violence against women is a longstanding problem. In November 2005 Anna Benny, a women's rights activist, was allegedly shot and killed after she went to the assistance of her sister-in-law who was being held in a home on suspicion of practicing sorcery. The police in Goroka refused to take any action to investigate her death, claiming they had received no complaint from the family. Former provincial police commander Leo Kabilo has been charged in late 2007 with the rape of a woman at the police station; however his case is yet to be brought to trial while he is at liberty on bail. Police failed to investigate and prosecute the rapes and beatings of women by police officers during the raid on the 3-Mile Guesthouse in 2004 despite extensive evidence from eyewitnesses collected by government representatives and others (see Human Rights Watch, "Making Their Own Rules," appendix 1, https://www.hrw.org/en/node/11626/section/12).
Thank you for your attention to our concerns, and we look forward to receiving a response at your earliest convenience.
Zama Coursen-Neff Donna Guest
Deputy Director Deputy Programme Director
Children's Rights Division Asia Pacific Programme
Human Rights Watch Amnesty International