Amnesty slams Papua New Guinea for inaction over sorcery killing

SYDNEY (AFP) - Amnesty International on Thursday hit out at Papua New Guinea for failing to bring to justice the killers of a woman who was burnt to death a year ago for sorcery.

Ms Kepari Leniata, 20, was stripped naked, tied up, doused in petrol and burned alive in front of a crowd by relatives of a boy who died following an illness in the city of Mount Hagen in February last year.

The attackers claimed Ms Leniata caused his death through sorcery in a case that sparked global outrage, with the United Nations slamming "the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea".

"One year since Kepari's murder made international headlines, it is shocking that those responsible for her torture and killing have yet to be brought to justice," said Ms Kate Schuetze, Amnesty's Pacific researcher.

Reports last year said two people had been charged with the murder, but Amnesty said nobody had yet been convicted.

"With a reported increase in the number of sorcery-related attacks, particularly against women, it's clear the authorities need to do much more to deal with these abhorrent crimes.

"This type of violence is destroying families and communities in Papua New Guinea," Schuetze said.

Amnesty said it had received reports of girls as young as eight being attacked and accused of sorcery, and children being orphaned as a result of one or both their parents being killed after accusations of witchcraft.

Black magic, sorcery and cannibalism have all been reported in impoverished Papua New Guinea, with experts worried that it is on the rise.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2012 found that sorcery is often used as a pretext to mask the abuse of women.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, currently in Papua New Guinea, said research suggested two in three Papua New Guinean women have experienced domestic violence as she announced funding for a PNG Family and Sexual Violence Case Management Centre in the town of Lae.

The attack on Leniata helped push Papua New Guinea to reintroduce the death penalty for violent crimes including sorcery.

It also repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act, which recognised the accusation of sorcery as a defence in murder cases.

Any black magic killing is now treated as murder punishable by death under sweeping law reforms announced last year that also revived the death penalty in the Pacific nation for a range of crimes.

Amnesty said the reforms had not reduced sorcery-related violence and urged the government to develop urgent measures to protect women at risk, including establishing shelters and providing emergency funds to help them escape.