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U.N. urges Papua New Guinea to protect women from witch hunters

Papua New Guinea must do more to protect women from anti-sorcery attacks, and conduct fair trials for those accused of attacking suspected witches.
By JC Finley   |   June 13, 2014 at 1:12 PM   |   Comments

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NEW YORK, June 13 (UPI) --The United Nations issued an appeal to Papua New Guinea to take further action to prevent attacks on women accused of sorcery.

The U.N. and human rights groups have charged that Papua New Guinea hasn't done enough to protect women -- and occasionally men -- from being attacked. In parts of the country, sorcerers are believed to be responsible for some mystery illnesses and deaths.

In February 2013, a 20-year-old woman was burned to death after being accused of sorcery.

That same year, Papua New Guinea was praised for its repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalized sorcery and allowed murderers to reduce their sentences if they alleged their victims were engaged in witchcraft.

The government then introduced the death penalty as punishment for rape, robbery, and murder.

U.N. human rights adviser Signe Poulsen participated in a workshop in Papua New Guinea on Thursday and shared some recommendations:

"First, there must be an end to impunity for those who incite or commit acts of violence against individuals accused of sorcery and witchcraft. Crimes must be effectively and immediately investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials. This will send a strong signal that violent responses are unacceptable. However, while we support strong measures against perpetrators, we do not believe that the death penalty is an effective measure. It is rather the certainty that perpetrators will be apprehended and dealt with through sound judicial processes that will serve as a deterrent."

He also recommended, the Pacific Island News Association reported, the government should coordinate with civil society organizations to "put in place emergency procedures to rescue and resettle women who are at risk of suffering sorcery-related violence in their communities."

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