The UN Commission on Human Rights has decried the horrible scene that occurred on Wednesday when a 20-year-old mother of an 8-month-old, Kepari Leniata, was burned alive by a mob after she was accused of sorcery by the family of 6-year-old boy who died the day before in Papua New Guinea.
The incident occurred in the rural-region of Mount Hagen. According to the The National newspaper in Papua New Guinea:
…relatives of the boy stripped the woman before marching her to a junction, where she was thrown onto a pile of burning tyres.
Leniata was burned by a drunken mob who stood and took pictures on their phones while she was incinerated on a pile of tires and trash.
A statement on Friday from the Human Rights Commission said:
This case adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea. We urge the government to put an end to these crimes and to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice through thorough, prompt and impartial investigations in accordance with international law. In light of the heinous crime which has been committed, we encourage the authorities to hasten the process to strengthen the legal response to such killings.
A law in Papua New Guinea, which was signed into law in 1971, outlaws sorcery and decrees that murder can be used as a defense in cases of witchcraft. The New York Times reports that back in November a constitutional commission recommended the government repeal the law. Amnesty International has urged the government to enforce the action. The U.N. commission noted in her statement:
We don’t know why nothing has been done since November…
The culture in rural parts of Papua New Guinea has been known to blame misfortune and natural disasters on sorcery. Strangely, it is rarely (never) males who are who are believed to be the source of this witchcraft. In March 2012, Rashida Manjoo, a South African Special Rapporteur on violence against women for the UN, investigated the culture of violence against women in Papua New Guinea. In her findings she noted:
…violence against women is a pervasive phenomenon in Papua New Guinea, with a wide range of manifestations occurring in the home, the community and institutional settings…
After the tragedy that occurred on Wednesday, national police spokesman Dominic Kakas, said:
The incident happened in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses and yet we haven’t picked up any suspects yet…
He also mentioned that there were police officers in the crowd who attempted to save Kepari but were overwhelmed by the crowd. However, Manjoo has previously noted that the police are not always of help to women in Papua New Guinea:
Complaints of violence and sexual abuse of women by the police while in detention and outside was a systemic issue, including against sex workers. Regardless of the specific manifestations of violence suffered, most interviewed victims felt that the policing sector had not provided them with an adequate response to their cases…
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said about the incident:
What has been reported is very barbaric and inhuman. No one commits such a despicable act in the society that all of us, including Kepari, belong to. Barbaric killings … are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country. It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society, should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongdoing that they actually have nothing to do with.