A conference being held at Australia's National University generally would fly under the radar—but when the topic is witchcraft, the equation changes. What experts are talking about: The fear that sorcery-related violence could spread from Papua New Guinea to other parts of the Pacific. Time reports that deaths from diseases like AIDS tend to spur witchcraft accusations. And the former head of the Solomon Islands National Museum tells the AFP, "The reason why it’s growing is because there is some kind of economic benefits people are receiving from these practices."
Ignore the problem, and that country "might end up in the same situation as in Papua New Guinea where they are actually physically killing people." It's those killings—including this horrific February example in which a 20-year-old accused witch was burned alive—that led PNG to last week bring back the death penalty (to deter those would would commit these murders) and repeal the 1971 Sorcery Act, which outlawed "evil sorcery," reports Time. But Richard Eves, an Australian anthropologist who is co-convening the conference, notes that legislative changes "don’t necessarily mean an end to the problem because the ratio of police to population is quite low. When you’ve got an armed mob screaming for blood, there's nothing much a few policemen can do. And the fact is that police in PNG are just as likely to believe the accused are guilty as charged."