GENEVA: 29 April 2016: Ikponwosa Ero, The United Nations Independent Expert on the rights of persons with albinism, expressed serious concerns about the attacks, mutilation and killing of persons with albinism in Malawi. Superstitious beliefs about the magical properties of the body parts of PWA, have given rise to a critical crisis where PWA are hunted by so-called ‘albino hunters’ to feed the growing black market for these body parts. The atrocities in Malawi render persons with albinism an endangered people facing a risk of systemic extinction
The atrocities in Malawi render persons with albinism an endangered people facing a risk of systemic extinction
Police have recorded some 65 cases since late 2014, most likely a conservative number given that many cases go unreported, especially in isolated rural areas.
These attacks, common in other countries such as Tanzania are rarely investigated, protection remains weak and convictions are few, reflecting a serious lack of political will.
In her end of mission statement, the UN Independent expert stated that the scale of these attacks is so serious that PWA are progressively being driven towards extinction in a country where these number less than ten thousand:
“The atrocities in Malawi render persons with albinism an endangered people facing a risk of systemic extinction over time if nothing is done to stem the tide. Given the relatively small population size of people with albinism in the country – reported to be a little less than ten thousand – attacks against a few of them constitutes a danger to all of them”.
She went on to note how PWA and their families in Malawi are confined to a life of fear, isolation and poverty, their movement and freedom consistently constrained:
“Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack. Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum”.
The independent expert observed how the involvement of close relatives in these attacks, means that these lives are not only ones lived in isolation and fear, but also in deep distrust including of those supposed to care for them.
Ms. Ero described the situation as “an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions” calling for a concerted and coordinated response:
“It is clear that an urgent and coordinated response from the Government, civil society and development partners working in strong partnership with each other is required.”
While the independent expert welcomed the launch of the Government’s 2015 Response Plan, she was clear in stating that the absence of resources have in practice delayed its implementation, urging that “such an emergency situation needs an emergency response.”
She also expressed concerns that government responses and punishments meted out remain not only weak but ill aligned with the gravity of these brutal and criminal acts:
“As pointed out by various stakeholders during my visit, stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty.”
All this feeds into fear among PWA and a broader message of impunity.
The expert recommended “training for police, prosecutors and magistrates to increase knowledge of the current legislative framework applicable to these cases, cooperation between the police and the Department of Public Prosecutions,” as well as “adequate resources for the newly appointed special prosecutor.”
Ms. Ero pointed out that, although the amendment of relevant legislation is required, more immediate measures are also necessary including a judicial direction where cases be handled only by professional magistrates and through the ongoing revision of the Sentencing Guidelines.
The expert also emphasised the need to address the root causes of attacks, claiming that this is indispensable to eradicating them:
“Discrimination against persons with albinism has a long history in the country and is well rooted in beliefs as well as harmful traditional and cultural practices, including that persons with albinism do not die but simply disappear, and the practice of infanticide at birth on the pretext that the baby was stillborn.”
The independent expert will be producing a full report and recommendations which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.