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Papua New Guinea: Authorities must act after woman is burned alive for 'sorcery'

A 20-year-old woman has become the latest victim of sorcery-related killings in Papua New Guinea. Kepari Leniata was brutally murdered after being accused of using witchcraft to kill a young boy.

She was stripped, tied up, doused in petrol and burned alive by relatives of the dead boy in the city of Mount Hagen.

The murder is the latest in a long line of similar attacks in the country. Amnesty International is calling on the Papua New Guinea authorities to take urgent action to stop the killings.

Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher, Kate Schuetze, said:

“Those responsible for the shocking torture and killing of this woman must be brought to justice.

“But there is far more to be done to tackle this endemic problem in Papua New Guinea, where ‘sorcery’ is still considered a criminal offence.

“Repealing the Sorcery Act is one of the first steps the authorities must take towards preventing these horrific attacks

“But the problem goes far deeper. The authorities must also crack down on those who are abusing this law, essentially by using it as an excuse to attack people.”

There have been several reports in recent years of people accused of ‘sorcery’, in most cases women, being murdered. In July 2012, police reportedly arrested 29 members of a witch-hunting gang who were allegedly murdering and cannibalising people they suspected of ‘sorcery’.

In 2009, after a string of such killings, the country's Law Reform Commission proposed the repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalises the practice.

“Sorcery” is also often used as a pretext to mask abuse of women in Papua New Guinea, which was last year described as a “pervasive phenomenon” in the country by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

In Papua New Guinea customs, “sorcery” is sometimes believed to account for a sudden or unexplained death or illness, and the person thought to be responsible may be killed.

Amnesty International has long-standing concerns about human rights violations against women in Papua New Guinea, where harmful traditions contribute to the negative stereotyping of women and widespread discrimination against them in almost all facets of society.

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