The Special Parliamentary Committee on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has been active this year in drawing attention to the increasing levels of GBV across the country and continue to call for more action from the Government.
One of the most pressing issues that has been brought to the attention of the Committee in recent months is the worrying rise in sorcery accusation related violence (SARV), which is resulting in vicious, brutal violence and killings of innocent people, not only in outlying villages but also now in bigger towns and cities.
At the parliamentary hearings held by the GBV Committee in May this year, the Committee heard troubling stories about SARV cases from a number of representatives from organisations who work on the issue.
Ruth Kissam, of the Tribal Foundation, stated: “Any woman who is accused of sorcery are now having their children at risk of the same violence. Cases must be prosecuted to send a message that they cannot be targeted.”
Ms Kissam’s colleague Gary Bustin also confirmed, “What is happening to women and children in sorcery related violence is beyond what one animal would savagely do to another. We need to go after the “glass men”, the witch doctors who are playing on local fears to make money.”
Committee Chairman Charles Abel has raised strong concerns that more needs to be done to address these issues. He stated: “I am extremely concerned that SARV cases are increasing around the country and no action is ever seen to be taken against the perpetrators.
Whole villages seem to be involved – with violence and killings occurring in broad daylight – yet we see no arrests and no-one being held accountable. The police must do more to investigate and make sure that people are protected from these absolutely untrue allegations.
There is simply no place for such random, senseless violence in our society.”
In June 2021, the Divine Word University, National Research Institute and Australian National University held a conference on SARV issues.
Subsequently, the NRI has released a report on SARV in PNG titled “The Role of Glasman/Glasmeri as Catalysts of Accusation and Violence” which has highlighted the troubling roles that that glassmen/glassmeri are playing in SARV cases.
The NRI research found that the involvement of a glasman/glasmeri in an accusation of sorcery significantly increases the likelihood of a violent response.
The research indicated that many glasman/glasmeri operate in ways that generate financial advantages for themselves, though some no doubt genuinely believing they wield supernatural powers.
The research found that even under current laws it is possible to charge glasman/glasmeri as accessories in cases of SARV that amount to criminal ofences, if it can be proved that they aided and abetted or incited the crime.
It is also possible that when Village Courts and other courts hear about sorcery allegations, they can issue specific preventative orders to stop glasman/glasmeri from making statements.
Additional research as found that while the public believes there is impunity for SARV perpetrators, in fact, there was an average of five convictions each year from 2000-2010, but that number leapt to an average of 19 per year from 2010-2020, making the average across the two decades 12 convictions per year.
Committee Chairman Abel has commended the report as a must-read for all Ministers, and all MPs, who need to come together to take action to address this problem.
He stated: “I want to work with experts in our country to use our powers, as a Committee but also as MPs who have powers to enact and amend laws, to make sure that the laws of PNG are sufficient to outlaw and criminalise these barbaric practices.
We must act now to make sure we protect our people and that the police and courts have the power to take action to stop SARV cases.
Hon Abel noted: “I will make sure that the issue of SARV is addressed in the Committee Report that we will be producing this month and which we aim to table in Parliament in August.
We are all committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our people – outlawing SARV is surely a top priority in that regard and I will do everything in my power to address this.”
The Committee was set up in 2020 by the National Parliament and is chaired by Hon Charles Abel, Member for Alotau, is seven members in total – including Deputy Chairman, Hon Allan Bird (Governor East Sepik), Hon Powes Parkop (Governor NCD), Hon Michael Dua (Governor Chimbu), Hon Aiye Tambua (Goroka MP), Hon Ginson Saonu (Governor Morobe) and Hon Allan Marat (Rabaul MP).
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is providing technical support to the Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV as part of its gender programming and the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.
This support aims to address GBV and support longer-term efforts to promote women’s participation and leadership in the Parliament.
Picture by: ABC