MR 76: Hexenwahn in Papua Neuguinea (engl.)

Sorcery Accusation - Related Violence in Papua New Guinea
Christina  - a Case Study

Scenes of women or men who are detained, tortured or even executed by an angry mob because they are accused of practising witchcraft or sorcery – for many people, these images conjure up thoughts of the Middle Ages and the early modern era. Experts, however, have cautioned that more people have already fallen victim to such crimes in recent decades than between the 15th and 18th centuries in Europe. Sorcery accusation-related violence is by no means a thing of the past; on the contrary, it continues to be a contemporary phenomenon in many countries and regions of the world, such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and especially Africa.

Frequently it is personal misfortunes, such as illness or death, that trigger this kind of violence. Negative incidents are attributed to acts of witchcraft, causing those seeking answers to resort to a variety of rituals in pursuit of a culprit. If the presumed witches are then found, they are tortured or murdered in the most cruel of ways. Even close relatives are often powerless and cannot or will not intervene.

The present study focusses on Papua New Guinea. Located north of Australia in the Pacific, and boasting a varied and fascinating landscape, Papua New Guinea is home to about a thousand ethnic groups each with their own language and culture. At the same time, the country faces many social struggles, including illiteracy, unemployment and widespread violence against women and children. A dangerous trend towards sorcery accusation is increasingly being observed; numerous men and women have already been brutally tortured or murdered.

This case study relates the story of Christina, a courageous woman accused of being a witch and tortured. Christina survived, but her perpetrators are still at large. Christina’s case is representative of countless women and men worldwide who fall victim to this perilous sorcery accusation. This case study will help us better understand this phenomenon by analysing the behaviour of the different actors involved and by highlighting new perspectives on how to bring about changes to protect innocent women, men, and children.

Documenting this violent crime will also help present Christina’s case to the United Nations, whose intention it is to take a particularly close look at the human rights situation in Papua New Guinea in the spring of 2021 as part of its Universal Periodic Review. It is imperative that government agencies and aid organisations join forces in order to put an end to sorcery accusation and to raise public awareness not only in Papua New Guinea, but in all countries affected. The local police and law enforcement authorities must also take a more resolute stance against these violent crimes.

The present study also demonstrates how Sister Lorena, a missio project partner, has dedicated herself in an impressive way to the fight against sorcery accusation-related violence and how her courageous commitment has made her a true beacon of hope for those affected. In 2018, Sister Lorena was awarded the Weimar Human Rights Award for her commitment. missio will continue to support her work and promote public awareness with publications and campaigns.

missio has, for example, declared August 10th, 2020, as the World Day Against Sorcery Accusation-Related Violence in order to raise awareness, not only among the people in Germany but worldwide, about the devastating consequences of sorcery accusation, to bring together experts and to harness campaigns.


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