The international community must step up efforts to eradicate witchcraft- and sorcery-related killings in the affected parts of the world. In Africa, India, Nepal and Papua New Guinea brutal attacks and murder of suspected witches are on the rise. And local authorities are unable to intervene and protect victims of witchcraft accusation or stop the wave of sorcery related persecution and execution ravaging countries and communities. When it comes to witchcraft persecution and execution, many countries have failed in their responsibility to protect their citizens and uphold the rule of law. So the international community should step in and bring more pressure to bear on these countries.
Meanwhile, two women have reportedly been beheaded in Papua New Guinea. Earlier this year the gruesome murder of a 20-year-old woman, Kepari Leniata, who was accused of sorcery, attracted international outrage and condemnation.
According to the report, the two women were tortured before they were beheaded. As in the case of Leniata, local police officers were present but could not stop the angry mob from killing the alleged sorcerers. A local police inspector, Herman Birengka, said they were helpless and could not do anything while condemning the killing as 'barbaric and senseless'.
According to him, "The two women were rounded up and taken to Lopele village after they were suspected of practicing sorcery and blamed for the death of the former teacher, who was from Lopele village. They were tortured for three days, suffering knife and axe wounds, before being beheaded in front of the police who had been sent to the village to mediate.'
The beheading of the two women happened days after six women accused of sorcery were tortured with hot irons in an Easter "sacrifice" in the Southern Highlands in the country.
Like many countries in Africa, witch hunting plagues Papua New Guinea. And international community needs to help this nation combat this social disease. International condemnation by the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights groups is not enough. The world must do more to end this cultural scourge. Papua New Guinea needs international assistance in terms of public education, reorientation and law enforcement. In Papua New Guinea, there is a pervasive notion that sorcery is a crime, and that some people can kill others through sorcery or malevolent magic.
The local population believes strongly that there must be a malevolent occult power behind any incident of misfortune like death or disease. And people try to 'smell out' the 'sorcerers within' whenever tragedy strikes. Any suspected witch or sorcerer evokes fear and anger. He or she is not perceived as an ordinary human being, but as a criminal and an enemy of the society who deserves no mercy or compassion.
Torture and extra judicial killing are often ways of bringing these 'enemies within' to justice. Most often people take laws into their hands because, as in Papua New Guinea, the state laws do not recognize witchcraft. The assumed crime of sorcery lacks evidence. So the courts cannot prosecute anyone for harming or killing somebody through sorcery or magic, as many people would want to. And in Papua New Guinea as in other parts of Africa where witch beliefs are very strong and popular, accusations of sorcery trumps state laws and human rights mechanisms. Hence the police and other state agencies are unable to effectively intervene or stop the attack, beheading or lynching of those accused of sorcery. In fact the state is perceived to be aiding and abetting sorcery and sorcery related crimes.
The UN agencies, international human rights and skeptics groups should come to the aid of Papua New Guinea so that it can get its citizens to understand that there are no basis for the crimes attributed to sorcery; that those being accused, attacked and killed for sorcery related crimes are innocent. The international community needs to assist the police and judiciary in Papua New Guinea to uphold the rule of law and take the necessary measures to protect victims of sorcery accusations, intervene and diffuse the anger of witch believing mobs and bring witch hunters to justice. Sorcery related torture and killing has been going on in many countries for too long. And the time has come for the international community to take a strong stand against it.
Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa.