A new outcry has erupted in Bougainville over an increase in sorcery-related killings in the country.
In comments to The National newspaper following a gruesome beheading of a man who was accused of practicing sorcery, President Ishmael Toroama said, “I condemn the recent senseless acts of murder, arson related sorcery, and payback killings that have happened in the last couple of weeks throughout Bougainville.”
The beheading has sparked wide spread fear amongst the people from Haku, as the relatives of the deceased man torched and pillaged the village of the men responsible for his death.
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Francis Tokura, said the crimes can never be justified, but that, “I do not see these problems as isolated incidents.”
As talks are underway with the locals in Haku, there is a significant strain on the police resources within the country.
President Toroama said that the general deterioration of law and order can no longer be ignored.
A similar incident occurred recently, involving a couple from South Bougainville who were accused of practicing sorcery with the use of snakes.
Bougainville’s neighbour, Papua New Guinea (PNG), has the highest rate in sorcery accusation killing and gender-based violence within the Pacific region, according to a recent report by the United Nations Population Fund.
An earlier report by the Human Rights Watch also called on PNG police to take more action against killers who hide behind the defence of sorcery accusations.
In a recent statement to the Asia Pacific Report by PNG Prime Minister James Marape, he urged police to step up their duties and stop to the unjustified killing that has plagued the country.
“We discourage anyone from killing another over sorcery. If you feel that someone has caused an offence, there are appropriate charges to be laid against that person.”
Ruth Kissam, who works with the Tribal Foundation, told ABC News Australia that the violence didn’t have a cultural background, even in areas where belief in sorcery was traditional.
“Sorcery-accusation-related violence picked up about 10 to 15 years ago,” she told ABC. “Culturally, there is a deep belief in sorcery in many parts of Papua New Guinea, but it was never violent.”
She blamed a lack of law and order and a broken health system for the violence, saying it had “absolutely nothing to do with culture”.
This is not a new issue for PNG or Bougainville, yet many have questioned the commitment of authorities to fix the problem.
Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, Helen Hakena, told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) in November 2020 that people were worried.
“There are suspects, there are rumours and there are known cases but nobody seems to be taking a lead into making sure these people are arrested,” she said to RNZ.
She said an attack blamed on sorcery happened about once a month in Bougainville, while across PNG it’s estimated as many as 200 people die each year and dozens more are left badly injured as a result of murders that perpetrators blame on someone using sorcery.