BARRY DUKE | The Freethinker
FOLLOWING REPORTS that a young woman in Papua New Guinea had been burned alive for being a witch, Nigerian humanist and human rights campaigner Leo Igwe (pictured) – who has tirelessly been campaigning against witchcraft atrocities in Africa – issued a statement calling for international action and education programs to stamp out the superstitious beliefs that lead to these horrendous killings.
Kepari Leniata, 20, died on a bonfire in a rubbish tip after being accused of being a witch, and using her powers to kill a young boy. The young mother was stripped, tortured in doused with gasoline.
Igwe said that for too long UN agencies and other international human rights bodies have kept silent, all in the name of “respecting” the cultural beliefs, and he called on “sceptics, critical thinkers and all people of reason in Papua New Guinea to rise up to the challenge of bringing end to witchcraft-related murders and other superstition-based abuses”.
To this end, Igwe contacted a number of organisations and agencies in PNG in an effort to enlist their co-operation, but at least one body, The Melanesian Institute, said it could not possibly cooperate with Igwe because of his association with the James Randi Institute, and the nature of articles written by Igwe and posted on the Internet.
On 11 February, Igwe wrote to Rev Jack Urame, of the Melanesian Institute, saying:
My name is Leo Igwe. I am research student-working on witchcraft accusation at the University of Bayreuth. I am partnering with the James Randi Educational Foundation to understand and help address the phenomenon of witchcraft accusation.
I am contacting you regarding the recent case of witch burning in your country. We at JREF would like to partner with you to understand and help address this sociocultural issue.
With your Institute, we can work to develop a public education and enlightenment program, and campaign to bring to an end the menace of witch burning in Papua New Guinea.
We were all touched by the recent tragedy and would like to help in any way we can stop the witch hunt in Papua New Guinea.
Please let me know if your Institute will agree to work with us.
Writing in behalf of Rev Urame, Rudolf Lies, replied:
We feel indeed that as an institute the MI has done a lot already and will attempt to do its best to continue along that vein and work for change and the eradication of these horrible crimes.
Legal attempts to either change or as we rather feel abolish the Sorcery Act in the country are underway, but a change of mind will take time and effort.
However we feel that the premises that you express in articles found on the internet, and that seem also to be implied in the work of the James Randi Education Foundation make it not possible for us as an institute owned and run by four big churches to enter into closer cooperation.
We wish you all the best, and maybe our efforts will meet with some of yours in practical steps to change cultural patterns that allow for these atrocities. Christian ethics as we see them definitely strive for humanity and a love of life.