MP emphasizes need for more role models to help youngsters
August 24, 2017 The National
The country faces a crisis of bad role modelling by older people towards youths and this must change, Madang MP Bryan Kramer says. Speaking at the Divine Word University’s annual cultural day at the Madang campus recently, Kramer said the there were not many role models as there were in the past. He expressed concern that political leadership has been affected by poor role models setting bad examples over the years and it would take some time to fix the problem.
Kramer said the situation could change with institutions like DWU helping to shape ethical and honest professionals to enter the workforce and take up leadership roles. Kramer, who graduated from DWU with a Bachelor in Business-Accountancy, paid tribute to his former university for teaching religious education and ethics as a core subject that has shaped the character of DWU graduates over the years. He said his DWU education shaped his view of the world and gave him the moral compass to understand issues such as corruption in PNG today. He paid tribute to the Catholic religious, especially the Divine Word missionaries and Holy Spirit sisters who founded the university, the lay missionaries, volunteers and other staff for molding young people to be better citizens over the years.
16 years on: Looking back on Bougainville’s peace agreement
03 September 2017http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2017/09/16-years-on-looking-back-on-bougainvilles-peace-agreement.html#more
ARAWA – It was 16 years ago last week since the signing of an important blueprint that put an end to Bougainville’s civil war in Papua New Guinea. The Bougainville Peace Agreement paved the way for lasting peace on the war-torn island following the 10-year conflict which erupted as a result of disputes over the giant Panguna copper mine.
On 30 August 2001, the Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in Arawa, Central Bougainville.
The agreement between the government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) was intended to further the objectives of the Burnham Truce, Lincoln and other agreements brokered with New Zealand help. It was to be implemented through consultation and co-operation.
Several delegations from mainland Papua New Guinea visited Bougainville to restore the government’s trust and confidence to the people. Among them was Papua New Guinea’s former prime minister, Bill Skate, who asked hardliners and warlords to surrender their weapons. This was documented in the ceasefire agreement. Women were at the forefront of peace negotiations.
The signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001 allowed the establishment of the ABG in 2005,with Joseph Kabui elected as the first president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
It was a win-win solution, but since 2005 the full implementation of the peace accord has never been realised. One of the major issues has been unpaid grants which had been committed to Bougainville by the PNG national government.
A bumptious, unwise Peter O’Neill stirs the Bougainville pot
28 September 2017
NOOSA – It wasn’t so much the content as the arrogance of prime minister Peter O’Neill’s airy statement about Bougainville’s political future that came as a bombshell.
Bougainville’s ‘independence’ referendum scheduled for 15 June 2019 will not go ahead unless key conditions are met, O’Neill told the Papua New Guinea parliament on Tuesday.
And yesterday, Bougainville president Dr John Momis predictably reacted with anger, and said O’Neill was dead wrong.
“The referendum is inevitable. It’s been decided. We will have a referendum,” came the sharp retort.
Addressing the PNG parliament, O’Neill had stated that Bougainville’s autonomous government will be required to meet certain criteria before the referendum can be held.
These, O’Neill said, included “a proper establishment of rule of law, proper establishment of a government structure [and] proper disposal of weapons. “All those issues are yet to be met as we speak today,” he added. “I don’t want Papua New Guineans and Bougainvilleans to think that it’s an easy path, that we’ll just wake up tomorrow and have a referendum. “It may be such that it’s not possible.”
Dr Momis said if O’Neill acted on his comments, it would be both unconstitutional and a breach of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. “After the referendum is a different matter,” he said, “with the international community, through the United Nations, at that stage to decide whether what is happening in Bougainville meets international best practice.”
The referendum was formally agreed in 2001 in an internationally endorsed constitutional and legal treaty which brought to a close the bloody 10-year Bougainville civil war, a conflict which cost the lives of an estimated 10-15,000 people.
In fact PNG has long been in breach of the agreement by showing itself unwilling to provide legislated reparations to Bougainville and failing to progress effective institutional arrangements to conduct the referendum.
And, as Dr Momis said, “Weapons disposal, fiscal self-reliance, good governance – all these things are not conditions. “They are considerations that we need to take into account in determining the date for the referendum. That’s all.” In fact, it has been O’Neill’s failure to provide agreed funds and his tardiness in progressing negotiations towards a referendum that represent the main stumbling blocks to progress. Indeed, O’Neill’s lack of consultation, his wilful misinterpretation of what the peace agreement says and his patronising tone may well project the Autonomous Bougainville Government into taking long-considered legal action against the PNG government.
Talk of “successful” PNG election
05 September 2017
… Let’s look at the reaction of PNG economist Busa Wenogo’s itemisation of the many ways in which the election was mismanaged and corrupted:
1) The appointment of returning officers and assistant returning officers seems to have been done without proper screening and/or with the appointment influenced externally. Many of these officials are of questionable character and some have been implicated in foul play in previous elections.
2) There has been a gross abuse of electoral rolls and it could be that the majority of the voting population has not been able to cast a vote. In place of this, cronies of some ‘lucky’ candidates have helped themselves to votes by being able to mark many of those extra ballot papers.
3) Pretty much proven allegations (statistical analysis is compelling) of “ghost names” and extra ballot papers have influenced the result in crucial seats. I suspect the ruling PNC party knew it might not fare well in the elimination process and it did everything in its power to ensure its candidates were declared on the first (primary) count. [Results so far indicate that most PNC candidates leading with a small margin going into the elimination process have been eliminated.]
4) The superficial ‘quality checks’ of counting favour the ruling PNC against others. Cases in point include ‘quality checks’ in Moresby South, Ialibu-Pangia and Tari- Pori compared with Moresby North West and Madang Open. These ‘checks’ were deliberately done swiftly to allow PNC to increase its numbers quickly so that it could be invited by the governor-general to form government.
5) Allowing voting to proceed on a Sunday in Ialibu-Pangia although it is against the organic law on national & local level government elections, that is, unconstitutional.
6) The resignation of the electoral advisory committee over lack of information provided to enable it to do its job.
7) Major election related problems that have lacked effective action from the electoral commission including the return of writs to the governor-general on Friday 28 July without consulting the Registrar of Political Parties & Candidates – and with 20 or so seats still to be declared.
8) The discovery of some 3,000 ballot papers in Goilala District that were been counted.
9) The deliberate delay by the electoral commission in disbursing allowances for staff conducting elections in electorates where non-PNC parties were leading. This was deliberately done to delay the declaration of candidates.
10) Conflicting announcements over who was the duly-elected governor of Hela Province after the earlier declaration of Francis Potape was rescinded. The election manager did this in a very dubious way.
11) William Duma’s declaration made while 28 ballot boxes were to be counted (this has led to violence and the lockdown of Kagamuga airport).
12) In the case of Don Polye, the reluctance of the returning to count 11 remaining ballot boxes led to tragic violence in Enga.
13) In the case of Sir Mekere Morauta, the double declaration where the returning officer declared third placed candidate Joseph Tonde in a hotel witnessed by an EMTV crew and probable relatives of Mr Tonde. A failed attempt by PNC (assisted by the electoral commission) to derail Sir Mek’s push to rally independents and form the government with the NA-Pangu led team.
14) There was more – much more – right across the country. This election will be studied in Papua New Guinea for many years to come. After analysing these events, I question the neutrality of the electoral commission. The 2017 national election will be seen by many people as a failure.
The informal estimate of the death toll relating to the election is 70-80 people. The true figure is not one that officials in either PNG or Australia care to address, at least not in public.
She should reflect on the sad words of the respected Catholic priest, Fr John Glynn, 54 years in Papua New Guinea, in a recent article in PNG Attitude:
“As our newly elected honourable members sit there in their comfortable seats I wonder how many of them give any serious thought to what it cost to put them there in terms of blood spilled, lives lost, homes destroyed, families dispersed, businesses disrupted … and, when Election 2022 comes along, will it be any better?”
Jiwaka, Enga lead country in HIV/AIDS statistics
September 5, 2017The National
JIWAKA has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, according to Cardinal Sir John Ribat, the chairman of the PNG Christian Leaders Alliance on HIV/Aids. He was in Jiwaka yesterday to open a new regional office for the alliance at Sipil in Banz. The other eight provinces behind Jiwaka identified as having a high number of people living with HIV/Aids are Enga, Western Highlands, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, Northern, Morobe, Madang and the National Capital District. Provinces projected to have the highest prevalence rate in PNG are Enga, Jiwaka, Chimbu, Northern, Madang, NCD and Manus. Sir John said the church must take a leading role in educating the people on HIV/AIDS to reduce its spread. “The church must start carrying out awareness to help stop the population from being infected and affected. You need to get tested now and know your status because the virus is spreading fast,” Sir John said. “I’m appealing to the people of Jiwaka to change their behaviour,” he said.
Profiting from sickness in PNG: The dark economy of public health
07 September 2017
BORNEO Pacific Pharmaceuticals Ltd is yet again the subject of controversy, after the company was contracted this year, at a premium price, to supply medical kits to health centres and aid posts.
Media reports indicate that Borneo Pacific has been given a one year contract worth, K57,738,982.91, to provide medical supplies to health centres and aid posts throughout the country. The alleged value of the contract is substantially higher than the three-year, K71 million contract awarded to Borneo in 2013. Oro Governor, Gary Juffa, has questioned the award, describing it as “controversial and suspicious”. It ought to be kept in mind that in addition to being a member of the Public Accounts Committee, Juffa was deputy chair of the parliamentary committee which recently conducted a review of health sector management, which uncovered worrying evidence on Borneo Pacific’s merchandise. Governor Juffa claims the new contract was signed by the government against the advice of the solicitor general’s office. Echoing concerns raised by The Global Fund’s inspector general, the solicitor general is said to have rejected the draft contract because it was awarded via an unjustifiable certificate of inexpediency, and did not meet procurement procedures set out under part seven of the Public Finance Management Act and part 13 of the Financial Instructions.
This new contract awarded to Borneo Pacific also comes despite an allegation aired in March that a two-year review by the Health Department into the three-year contract granted to Borneo Pacific in 2013, “showed that the quality of service had dropped”. This is an especially concerning indictment given that the goods supplied by Borneo Pacific back in 2013 were already viewed as poor.
Because Borneo Pacific does not publicly release detailed accounts – indeed IPA records indicate it has not submitted an Annual Return since 2011, in violation of the Companies Act 1997 – it is impossible to verify whether it is making significant profits from these deals.
Tuberculosis looms as a potential threat to Apec summit
September 11, 2017 The National
THE high rate of tuberculosis (TB) in the National Capital District poses a health risk to the Apec meeting in Port Moresby next year, according to deputy health secretary Dr Paison Dakulala. He said NCD had 45 per cent of the TB burden in the country, with more than 30,000 people diagnosed. “PNG is on the list of high-burden countries for TB and multi-drug resistant TB and TB-HIV co-infections,” he said. “This causes a significant impact on the health system and the country’s economy. This has a health security issue for Papua New Guinea and for other countries. “This is specifically important considering the Apec Summit we will be hosting next year, where global players in the industry and firms will be coming. “For several months, they will be having meetings here. One of the big issues we have to deal with is TB.” He said despite the efforts they had put in to reduce the numbers, they still had poor treatment outcome. He said in Western, they had set up the whole component of direct observed treatment support (Dots) which was functioning well.
4229 People Living with HIV in NCD
Post Courier, September 12, 2017
Out of the 44, 187 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country, about 4229 are reported to be living in National Capital District, according to epidemiologist on HIV and sexual transmitted infections (STI) Michelle Budwitz. She said NCD is now the target because of the high prevalence of 1.46 percent and data is very vital to addressing the issue. She said 3000 PLHIV are on tantiretroviral treatment in the nation’s capital. “Though we are seeing some improvements in the treatment and care services, more still needs to be done,’’ she said. She said annually in this country, 16 percent of new infections are new born babies from mother to child transmission, however it could be more if all the clinics in the city are correctly collecting anti-natal clinic data because at the moment not all are doing this. She said PNG supports the renewed global commitment to work towards ending the AIDS epidemic and this includes a commitment to the 90:90:90 targets. “By 2020, 90 per cent of all PLHIV will know their HIV status, by 2020, all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; by 2020, 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. “Under the new HIV and Sexual Health Strategy 2018 to 2020, it is envisaged that to reach 90:90:90 goals requires considerable focus on assisting people with HIV to know their HIV status and access clinical monitoring, treatment care and support.’’
Babies with HIV account for 16pc of new infections
September 12, 2017The National
BABIES account for 16 per cent of the new HIV infections annually in the country, according to Health Department epidemiologist Dr Michelle Budwitz. Speaking at the opening of a National Capital District HIV surveillance training for monitoring and evaluation (M and E) focal persons and service providers in Port Moresby yesterday, Budwitz said: “Data collection is very important in the AIDS programme. “This is really critical because 16 per cent of new infections annually are newborns. “We can prevent that. There shouldn’t be any babies infected with HIV.
Contaminated water is still killing 60 PNGns a week
9 September 2017
Here are some facts about water quality in Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea has the poorest level of access to clean water in the world, with more than 60 percent of the population living without access to clean water. Since 1990, access to clean water has only gone up by 6% and improved sanitation coverage actually dropped by one percent. Of the 15 developing Pacific Island nations, Papua New Guinea has the lowest water and sanitation access indicators. The average cost of 50 litres of water (the minimum amount of water necessary for human sanitation and well-being) in Papua New Guinea’s capital is K8 a day, which is half the average daily salary of K16. Approximately 4.8 million people in Papua New Guinea do not have access to clean water and 6.2 million people do not have a basic toilet. More than 200 children in Papua New Guinea die of diarrhoea each year due to lack of sanitation and clean water.
According to Oxfam New Zealand, contaminated water in PNG kills 368 people every six weeks.
Papua New Guinea launched the national water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) policy in 2015.
These facts about water quality in PNG reveal a serious issue that extends beyond just access to water.
Scourge of leprosy, a disease of the poor, returns to PNG
20 September 2017
PORT MORESBY – Sitting in the car I could see her in the distance – running, half limping.
After a while I got out and moved to the front of the vehicle and waited for her. Rebecca slowed down as she approached but continued towards me. I could see she was excited but, just as she came close, she turned as if to dash away and escape. I grabbed her and held her close to me. Rebecca is a 15-year-old girl who lives on the outskirts of Port Moresby. She is spending her early years living in shame because of her condition. Growing up with leprosy she can see how she is losing both of her feet and her right hand. She is worrying about being deformed. She understands the implications of her predicament and lives in shame. Leprosy and poverty feed off each other. In places where leprosy is widespread, there is often unbearable poverty. Where there is leprosy it is not hard to see disability but it is not only in the hands and feet, it affects the eyes.
PNG boasts of its modern infrastructure development but there is a group of people who will never have the opportunity to benefit from these services because of their physical condition. These people continue to live without proper nutrition, without clean water and in crowded conditions – prominent factors leading to the re-emergence of leprosy. In Papua New Guinea leprosy was announced as being successfully eliminated in 2000 however, in recent years, we have seen it resurface in Western, Gulf, Central and Sandaun provinces and in the National Capital District. The World Health Organisation reports that at the end of the first quarter of 2017, 356 new leprosy cases were recorded. Off this 140 were women and 89 children.
Govt’s removal of powers creates ICAC ‘toothless monster’
21 September 2017
PORT MORESBY – The Papua New Guinea government has amended draft legislation for an Independent Commission Against Corruption to remove some of its most critical powers, opening the doors to political interference. The government is watering down the powers of the ICAC and will be creating exactly the kind of ‘toothless monster’ the secretary for justice has written about.
The government changes were announced at a UPNG Seminar last week by Minister for Justice Davis Stevens. He said the government has removed ICAC’s powers of arrest and prosecution and placed the prime minister in charge of the appointments process for commissioners. Denying ICAC full powers of arrest and prosecution means it will not be able to act independently and effectively to investigate, prosecute and ensure those guilty of corruption are punished.
Independent Commission Against Corruption open
September 26, 2017
THE Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) draft bill is open to more public discussion and that is what the government wants. The public is encouraged to make comments on this important legislation, says Constitutional Law Reform Commission chairman, Dr Eric Kwa.
Dr Kwa also said there is no time frame when the bill gets to the parliament. He was speaking at a radio talkback show with TIPNG chairman, Lawrence Stephens, last week.Bo th shared general views on the draft bill and are encouraged that the government has decided to ask the people for their comments, especially on the appointment of commissioners and the clarity of arresting and prosecution powers as certified in the amended bill. Dr Kwa said the commission will still have some powers to arrest but will give the first call to those mandated by the Constitution to perform functions of arrests. He said the bill will not be rushed, and that there are suggestions the Prime Minister was running the show which was not correct. He reiterated that it is not a one-man decision.
Minister for Justice and Attorney-General, Davis Steven, spoke on proposed law at a forum at the University of PNG recently, saying the consultation with civil society and broad community demonstrated the government’s intention to be open about this important legislation.
Regarding consultation, Mr Steven encouraged the involvement of higher learning institutions in discussing the draft bill apart from the general public and it is a must for the legislation to be more simplified for common people to learn and understand it.
Copies in draft form are available at the Department of Justice.
Refugee rift piques PNG’s anti Australian sentiment
27 September 2017
SYDNEY – As Behrouz Boochani reports from Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, a number of the over 900 refugee men who have been detained there by Australia will soon fly to the United States where, under the fraught deal struck between the US and Australian governments in 2016, they will be allowed to settle. The Australian government is shutting down the detention centre on Manus while many of the refugees who have been detained there over the past four years are demanding, as they have from the beginning, that they be afforded the human right of being permitted to settle in Australia — a country where they are likely to be safe from war, poverty, and persecution.
The agreement, such as it was, is now arguably in tatters. The suffering of the refugees in detention, the abuse of their human rights, has been monumental. Manusians and Papua New Guineans more broadly have had this suffering in their faces, often finding themselves blamed for it, such as when refugees have been attacked by locals outside of detention on the island. Plans to resettle the refugees in the US have been the subject of international scandal, stopping and starting several times before the current assurance that some 50 will be flown there soon. Many of the jobs promised by Australia for the remittance-dependent Manus Island have not materialised, and Manusians (like former parliamentarian Ronny Knight) have repeatedly expressed concern about the volatility of a situation where so many men are held in poor conditions with no realistic exit point in sight.
Many Papua New Guineans feel that Australia has ducked its responsibility to resettle refugees and treated PNG like a dumping ground. Knight has suggested PNG could declare the refugees illegal residents and deport them to Australia, while the PNG Attorney-General has warned that his country is “not going to allow a situation where Australia has withdrawn”.
One senior development consultant, an Australian with decades of experience in the region, told me they’ve never seen such significant anti-Australia sentiment in PNG public discourse….
Plastic Bags – not change…
September 28, 2017
Not much has changed since the ban on the use of plastic bags in Papua New Guinea was introduced in 2005. People still litter or throw rubbish out of moving vehicles and this creates an eyesore in cities or towns, contributes to the clogging of drains and ultimately endangers marine life when plastics get out into the sea. Reigniting the fight against the use of plastic bags and trying to conserve marine habitats, Help PNG NGO is currently undertaking a project called “Ban the Bag” initiative. Help PNG has a mascot called the Plastic Bag Man who goes around selling stickers to the public with the assistance of the NGO’s intern Roberta Leo to encourage people to say no to the use of plastic bags. They are selling stickers for K5 but have put about 200 stickers for free on PMV buses in Port Moresby to get the public aware of the campaign against plastic bags. Help PNG NGO chief executive officer Frank Butler said the plastic ban more than 10 years ago was not effective because it was a rushed decision and did not prepare many people, especially the business houses, from stopping the use of or the selling of plastic bags. “It wasn’t a systematic approach to ban the bag…It was nice gesture but it wasn’t a systematic approach to the tapering off of plastics which is the difference between that (ban) back then and what we’re trying to do now,” Mr Butler said. “The problem was it was introduced overnight and there was no practical or social preparation done…and that is why it failed.” Mr Butler said building a recycling plant is unlikely but what can be done is getting people to gradually move away from the use of plastic bags. “Everybody agrees now that there are too many plastics and it’s not being addressed and we don’t have a system (to properly dispose plastics),” he said. “The only option is to reduce and then eventually ban the whole thing.” “It was nice gesture but it wasn’t systematic approach to the tapering off of plastics which is the difference between that back then and what we’re trying to do now.
PNG is 10th in disaster risk index
September 29, 2017The National
PAPUA New Guinea has been ranked as the tenth most disaster-prone country in the world, according to a global disaster risk study. The report by the United Nations University highlighted that the country was exposed to hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, coastal inundation, inland flooding, landslides, cyclones, drought, frost and outbreak of diseases. These are compounded with social and environmental issues of tribal fights, rapid population growth, urbanisation, poor land management and ecosystem degradation. Climate change is reportedly exacerbating the frequency and intensity of climatic hazards in PNG and globally. Recognising this challenge, the National Disaster Centre (NDC) is leading the process of developing PNG’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework (NDRRF).
Witchcraft accusation based violence gets international attention for the first time
By Miranda Forsyth and Philip Gibbs
Last week, on 21-22 September 2017, a UN Experts Workshop on Witchcraft and Human Rights was held in Geneva. This was the first UN and international level event with a specific focus on witchcraft beliefs and practices. It brought together a range of key UN office holders, including Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, with academics, activists, faith-based organisations, NGOs and survivors of violence emanating from witchcraft beliefs and practices. This post reflects on the key learnings from the workshop of relevance for Papua New Guinea.
The workshop’s intended focus was on practical ways forward to counter the harmful practices that accompany witchcraft and sorcery beliefs, rather than just exploring the social, cultural, economic and political factors that contribute to them. These harmful practices include the torture, murder and banishment of those accused of using witchcraft or sorcery. Speakers came from many parts of Africa, India and across Europe.
PNG’s journey in challenging sorcery accusation based violence and its Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) was also presented. PNG was favourably compared with many other countries in the world in terms of the leadership of its government, the range and comparatively co-ordinated nature of the activities being undertaken, and the evidence-based approach it has adopted. There was widespread agreement that these issues must be tackled in a comprehensive and multi-sectoral way. The workshop revealed new layers of support that PNG should draw upon going forward, including experiences from other countries in overcoming these types of violence and the international mechanisms that may be of assistance.
Widespread harm caused by sorcery practices and beliefs world-wide
There are a wide – and likely growing – range of abuses arising from the belief in sorcery and witchcraft around the world. These are particularly evident in many parts of Africa and India, but also increasingly in the UK and Europe as a result of migration and, disturbingly, sexual slavery. Many speakers referred to harmful practices “spreading like wildfire” and “hitting us like a tsunami” with the clear implication of increasing levels of abuse. Although the content and technologies of the beliefs and harmful practices varied enormously geographically and historically, there were also some striking shared themes. These include extreme levels of violence against those accused of using witchcraft, relative impunity of perpetrators, malleability of beliefs and practices, their appearance and reappearance over time, their persistence in the face of modernisation and even education, and their harshest impact being on the weakest and most vulnerable. The transmission and communication of both beliefs in witchcraft and the harmful practices associated with them occurs rapidly through migration and the internet and social and other media. Movies dramatising witchcraft beliefs and practices were argued to be a significant factor in the spread of such beliefs and practices; PNG should consider this in the regulation of its film industry.
The geographic variations of beliefs and practices within many countries gives rise to important questions about the most appropriate scale at which to regulate. In this regard, India’s approach is perhaps instructive for PNG, as legislation targeting particular harmful practices such as witch-hunting are made at the provincial level. This ensures appropriate cultural targeting and assists in ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are made aware of the laws that exist to protect them, and how to find pathways to access them.
The International community’s willingness to engage
There was active participation throughout the two days by a wide range of UN Special Rapporteurs (on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on violence against women, its causes and consequences; on the rights of persons with disabilities; on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism) and other members of the international community (the OHCHR, the Office of Special Representative of the Secretary General on violence against children, and many permanent missions in Geneva). They conveyed the clear message that harmful practices arising from witchcraft beliefs and practices fall squarely within the purview of the UN’s mandate to protect human rights. The workshop was stated by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights to be a “much needed and overdue” opportunity to focus on intersections between witchcraft and human rights. Speakers outlined a number of mechanisms that could be used to put pressure on state governments to be more actively engaged. These included working with UN representatives and human rights institutions on the local level, utilising reporting mechanisms in a variety of international conventions, and requesting Special Rapporteurs to open enquiries into systematic abuses of human rights.
The necessity for engagement by the international level was demonstrated by the fact that in many countries national government action to counter witchcraft-related harms was largely notable by its absence. A common theme of the workshop was the impunity of perpetrators and the unwillingness of state justice systems to properly execute their duty to protect citizens from abuse where witchcraft beliefs and practices are present, either due to lack of capacity, fear, complicity or combinations of the three. Kate Gilmore argued that the abuses flowing from witchcraft beliefs and practices stemmed from a range of state failures, including the failure to provide adequate justice, health and education.
One of the key recommendations made at the event was a proposal for a UN special resolution on witchcraft and human rights to be made in 2019.
The role of spiritual entrepreneurs
A wide range of classes of people who benefit financially and otherwise from people’s beliefs in witchcraft was discussed. Academic Jean La Fontaine has coined the useful term ‘supernatural entrepreneurs’ to cover this entire category. It ranges from traditional healers, many of whom also or mostly deliver essential primary healthcare, and those who profit by selling charms or trinkets, to those far more dangerous individuals who profit by identifying particular individuals for a fee, through to emerging linkages between witchcraft beliefs and practices and human trafficking. There was uniform condemnation of such practices but little concrete evidence of any successful or even serious attempts by states to prosecute the perpetrators. It was widely agreed that there is a pressing need to expose and stop those who profit in such ways. The problem of diviners has been noted in PNG and the call to target them made by many, including the judiciary who referred to them as “a scourge on society” who “fan the flames” of sorcery related killings in a recent judgment. International experience reinforces the urgency and importance of addressing this issue, and also suggests that it must be done carefully to ensure that traditional healers are not unjustly implicated.
A number of programs that offer genuine potential to address and prevent the harmful practices stemming from beliefs in witchcraft were discussed. It was noticeable that these were almost all developed by faith based organisations or civil society, with very little state involvement. Three that offer most relevance for PNG are:
• Mission Birubala in Assam province in India, which has five different components to its program: Rescue and Rehabilitation; Awareness Meetings; Sensitization Camps; Free Health Camps; and Formation of Student-Cells to mobilise youth to raise awareness.
• Train the trainer initiative led by missionary anthropologist Steven Rasmussen who coordinates regular seminars in Tanzania on Christian responses to witchcraft accusations. He has developed a monitoring system or pathway for religious leaders so members of congregations can alert others if they are creating circumstances for harmful practices to arise.
• Stop Child Witch Accusations organisation in Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has developed potentially transformational roles for church agencies in changing attitudes and harmful practices associated with witchcraft.
Part II of this post will discuss some of the key issues of debate and discussion at the workshop.