Updated: 06/13/2014 12:31 | By Agence France-Presse

UN urges end to impunity for PNG sorcery attacks

A senior United Nations envoy has urged an "end to impunity" in Papua New Guinea for sorcery-related attacks but rejected using the death penalty as punishment, a report said Friday.

UN urges end to impunity for PNG sorcery attacks

A 20th century tattoed skull from Papua New Guinea on display at a Paris exhibition, on May 5, 2014 - by Jacques Demarthon

PNG controversially revived the death penalty last year for violent crimes after a woman was stripped naked, tied up and set on fire in front of a crowd after being accused of sorcery.

Critics say the reforms have not reduced such attacks.

Signe Poulsen, an adviser for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said at a conference in the capital Port Moresby that prompt investigations and trials would send a "strong signal that violent responses are unacceptable".

"First, there must be an end to impunity for those who incite or commit acts of violence against individuals accused of sorcery and witchcraft," the Post-Courier newspaper reported Poulsen as saying.

"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."

PNG's deputy secretary for legal and justice affairs, Jack Kariko, said the conference discussions "should form the basis of policy and legislative reform that we hope will alleviate the pressures of the issue of sorcery".

"The Department of Justice and Attorney-General and certainly the government stands ready to receive whatever recommendations to consider and endorse," Kariko said.

Poulsen echoed comments from the UN last year slamming the impoverished Pacific country for bringing back capital punishment.

"While we support strong measures against perpetrators, we do not believe that the death penalty is an effective measure," she said. 

"It is rather the certainty that perpetrators will be apprehended and dealt with through sound judicial processes that will serve as a deterrent."

PNG has not carried out an execution since 1954 although it has kept the death penalty on the statutes for crimes such as treason and piracy.

While extending it to cover rape, robbery and murder, PNG also last year repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act, which recognised the accusation of sorcery as a defence in murder cases.

In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women found sorcery was often used as a pretext to mask the abuse of women in PNG.

Poulsen called for measures to rescue and resettle women targeted by sorcery violence, and to support those "who often put themselves at risk" to help them.

Black magic, sorcery and cannibalism have all been reported in PNG, with experts worried it is on the rise, while pointing to a growing pattern of vigilante attacks.

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