I’ve previously written about the continued existence of anti-sorcery laws in the Vanuatuan penal code, so I felt compelled to post about the current debate in Papua New Guinea over similar statutes. The PNG government has grown increasingly alarmed over a rash of murders linked to beliefs in witchcraft:
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the law on sorcery and sorcery related killings is being reviewed in an attempt to either repeal the Sorcery Act or make amendments to the Act by Parliament to make it more enforceable, and to help courts of law deal appropriately with such cases.
This is because sorcery and its related killings have escalated recently, and needs to be addressed as part of the law and order problems in the country.
Yesterday, Joe Mek Teine, Chairman of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission (CLRC) which is tasked to collect information to create laws, described sorcery and sorcery related killings as a “dreaded disease” that needs to addressed, contained and regulated because it is eating into the fabrics of society.
Mr. Teine is also the Member for Kundiawa/Gembogl in the Chimbu Province, where this issue is part of their lives, and where, according to him, people have now lost the respect of the rule of law.
There are some fascinating aspects of legal philosophy that come into play here. Sorcery by itself is bunk, of course—you’ll never convince me that its practitioners actually possess any supernatural powers. But it’s clear that significant portions of PNG’s population believe in the practice, to the point that they regard the murder of suspected witches as a form of self-defense. To reduce the number of slayings, then, the government may need to toughen penalties against what is, in effect, an imaginary pursuit.
I actually doubt that constitutional change, even if backed up by strict enforcement, can eliminate centuries’ worth of folk tradition. The only real cure for this irrational ailment is the introduction of knowledge, and that must be a genuine grassroots effort.
(Image via David Wall)