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PNG moves to stamp out sorcery
Papua New Guinea's Government is trying to stop violence brought on by a deep belief in sorcery and witchcraft.

The fear of sorcery and witchcraft is deeply rooted in Papua New Guinean society.
Every year, hundreds of people, many of them women, are murdered as witches and sorcerers.
Now, the Government has agreed to try to find a way to stop this disturbing practice.

Pacific Correspondent Sean Dorney reports.
SEAN DORNEY: Every month in Papua New Guinea, stories emerge of alleged sorcerers being put to death.

DR ERIC KWA, PNG CONSTITUTIONAL AND LAW REFORM COMMISSION: They are slashed with the bush knife, some of them actually get burnt, maybe when they are sleeping in the house, they burn the house, or some even pour kerosene on them or petrol and they burn them.

SEAN DORNEY: At the PNG national museum, acting director, Dr Andrew Moutu, tells me the belief in sorcery is deeply embedded.

DR ANDREW MOUTU, PNG NATIONAL MUSEUM AND GALLERY: We thought that by being educated, modernised and evangelised and if we abandoned paganism or if we abandon any kind of connection with religious beliefs other than Christianity, we might possibly also abandon sorcery.

But, increasingly modern as we are, increasingly serious with things of God and the bible hasn't made us abandon our beliefs in sorcery.

SEAN DORNEY: Dame Carol Kidu, now the opposition leader in PNG, is the widow of the late Sir Buri Kidu, the first indigenous chief justice.

DAME CAROL KIDU, PNG OPPOSITION LEADER: I remember my late mother-in-law used to say to me as a young woman, go with Buri to his functions. And used to say (speaks Papua New Guinean) "Vada won't get you, sorcery won't get you, so you can be like a protection for Buri". It was so deep, yes.

And you know they felt, because he was in a position, a high position, being chief justice, she feared for her son, that he may become the target of sorcery.

And of course, when he died, it was believed by the family that he had become the target of sorcery.

SEAN DORNEY: The Australian Colonial administration tried to tackle this deeply held belief in sorcery by introducing a Sorcery Act in 1971. Convictions have been rare and so people claim justification for dealing with those they see as evil.

DR ANDREW MOUTU: They do what they think is right. They do what they think is justifiable under the circumstances to try to right the wrongs.

DAME CAROL KIDU: There are other things involved nowadays, like greed, acquisition of people's properties and land, and all sorts of things might be all tied up in all of this, using - killing the sorcerers as a reason to acquire land. So it needs to be investigated and we need to work out how we can deal with it. It is a very complex issue.

SEAN DORNEY: Belief in the spirits and the power of certain people to harm others through working magic against them is fundamental to the traditional cultures of many of Papua New Guinea's 860 language groups.

The recent sudden death of the chairman of the law reform commission, highlands politician Joe Mek Teine, was even seen by some to be sorcery related.

Despite that, the commission continued its work, trying to find a solution to this disturbing trend of more and more people accused of sorcery being murdered.

Dr Eric Kwa is the secretary of the law reform commission and believes the simplest way around the upon be problem is to kill off the whole Sorcery Act.

DR ERIC KWA: Because one of the conclusions that we have now agreed to is that this is a spiritual matter, law cannot deal with spiritual matters. It is very difficult to prove as evidence.

DR ANDREW MOUTU: I think it is absolutely ridiculous. We will still kill people here, and I think the courts and the law reform commission must find a way to deal with sorcery bravely.

SEAN DORNEY: The law reform commission wants sorcery to be left to the village courts which operate at the community level.

The other argument used by the law reform commission is that those convicted of killing alleged sorcerers often get reduced sentences.

DR ERIC KWA:It's a mitigating factor. Well we are saying, 'no, you kill someone, you must be caught for murder, wilful murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm or whatever it is, you must be caught on that.'

SEAN DORNEY:The commission's research shows the victims are predominantly older woman. The commerce minister in the PNG government says the cabinet will consider the law reform commission's recommendations shortly.

CHARLES ABEL, PNG MINISTER FOR COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY: I find it disgusting that old women can be picked up from they are homes and dragged off into the bush and tortured, after being accused of sorcery, when we often know those allegations are absolutely false. And we are proud of our culture and there's an element to our culture that is I guess black magic or sorcery. But I think in this day and age it is absolutely inappropriate to accuse innocent people and mete out justice on the basis of accusations of sorcery.

SEAN DORNEY: But the answer to solving the problem could be as elusive as the evidence of guilt.
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