Women’s human rights defenders and sorcery-related torture


In this talk human rights defender Lilly Be’Soer discusses the work of Voices for Change, a women’s human rights NGO she founded and which is campaigning to protect women from torture and abuse in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. 

Women in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea experience alarmingly high rates of family and sexual violence. Research by women’s groups highlights the complexity of violence experienced by women including the impact of tribal conflict, cultural practices such as polygamy and sorcery-related torture. There is increasing evidence that victims of sorcery-related violence are largely women and other marginalised groups. Incidences of sorcery-related torture are frequently when there is a death or someone falls ill. These inhuman actions are happening under the noses of leaders and community members with nothing being done to address the problem. Much of the torture perpetrated is hard to understand and comprehend.

Voice for Change conducted a survey that gathered information about women who had experienced sorcery-related violence. This survey showed that women accused of sorcery experience extreme and inhuman violence including: physical violence; having body parts chopped off; being wounded by axes, bush knives and iron rods; having petrol poured over their body and set alight; being buried alive; and girls have been raped. Many women have died as a result of torture. Victims also often lose property, homes, and land. In the absence of a significant government and community intervention to prevent and respond to sorcery related violence, Women’s Human Rights Defenders (WHRD), such as Voice for Change, have taken a lead. Initiatives lead by WHRD’s can be difficult to sustain with limited support and resources from government and the international community.

This podcast is from the landmark Sorcery and witchcraft-related killings conference hosted by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific’s State, Society and Governance and Melanesia program and Regulatory Institutions Network on 5-7 June 2013. 

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