PNG: No justice for woman burned alive in "sorcery" attack

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The failure of the Papua New Guinea authorities to bring the killers of a woman who was burned alive to justice, underlines their complete failure to address “sorcery” attacks, Amnesty International said on the first anniversary of her death. 

Twenty-year-old Kepari Leniata was stripped, tied up, doused in petrol and burned alive by relatives of a boy who had died following an illness in the city of Mount Hagen. The attackers claimed Kepari had caused the boy’s death through sorcery.

"One year since Kepari’s murder made international headlines, it is shocking that those responsible for her torture and killing have yet to be brought to justice," said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International's Pacific Researcher.

"Given the high number of reported sorcery-related attacks, particularly against women, it’s clear the authorities need to do much more to deal with these abhorrent crimes. This type of violence is destroying families and communities in Papua New Guinea.”

Amnesty International has received reports of girls as young as eight years old being attacked and accused of sorcery, and children being orphaned as a result of one or both their parents being killed after accusations of witchcraft. 

Harmful traditions contribute to widespread discrimination against women in Papua New Guinea.

Following a visit in March 2012, violence against women was described as a "pervasive phenomenon" by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, who also found that 'sorcery' is often used as a pretext to mask abuse of women. 

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in November 2013 the high levels of violence against women in the country represents a 'humanitarian crisis'. 

In May 2013, in a positive move, Papua New Guinea’s Parliament repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act. It provided for a reduced sentence to anyone that committed assault or murder if they said their victim had been committing acts of sorcery. However, the harsher penalties have not reduced reports of sorcery-related violence. 

“The Government must commit to measures to end this systematic violence against women including through education and by working closely with development partners on the ground,” said Kate Schuetze.

Amnesty International calls on Papua New Guinea’s government to develop urgent measures to protect women at risk of violence including establishing shelters and providing emergency funds to help women escape violence.

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