Sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea in the context of international human rights law

Dr Nancy Robinson, Regional Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Speaking at a conference in Canberra on Sorcery-related Killings in Melanesian countries, Regional Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Nancy Robinson, addressed the phenomenon of sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea in the context of international human rights law. 

The Sorcery and witchcraft-related killings in Melanesia: Culture, law and human rights perspectives Conference, held at the Australian National University, looked at the gap in workable solutions to the negative societal issues posed by belief in sorcery and witchcraft, and particularly the problem of sorcery and witchcraft-related killings. Although sorcery and witchcraft beliefs and practices are widespread in Melanesian countries, how their peoples and governments respond to them varies widely.

In her address to the conference, Dr Robinson, discussed the phenomenon of sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea in the context of international human rights law and the international human rights framework which, while not directly addressing the issue of violence in relation to sorcery, does so through various provisions such as the right to life, access to justice, and to not be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The emerging international law principle of ‘due diligence’, was also highlighted since the failure on the part of the State to protect, respect, promote or fulfill its human rights obligations is sufficient to trigger its international legal responsibility. In this context, further measures which can be taken by the Government of Papua New Guinea to comply with its international obligations and commitments were considered. These include:

  • Preventing sorcery-related violence through education and awareness.
  • Addressing sorcery-related crimes through legislation and policy frameworks.
  • Providing protection to victims and witnesses of sorcery-related violence.
  • Investigating, charging and prosecuting perpetrators.
  • Providing medical and psychosocial treatment, and remedies for the victims.

Read the full statement (pdf).

Dr Nancy Robinson is the Regional Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Pacific region. The regional office covers 16 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum, which include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.