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Tanzania: “Reported attacks against persons with albinism decline, but root causes still rife in rural areas” – UN expert

DAR ES SALAAM / GENEVA (28 July 2017) – People with albinism living in rural Tanzania continue to live in fear amid widespread attitudes that lead to violence against them, a United Nations human rights expert has concluded after her first visit to the country.

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, said more work was needed to address witchcraft and educate the public.

“People with albinism continue to live in a very fragile situation, as the root causes of the attacks against them remain rampant, and the effects of over a decade of violations have taken their toll,” she said at the end of her 11-day visit to Tanzania. “People are still living in fear, particularly in rural areas.”

However, Ms. Ero welcomed a drop in the number of reported attacks and praised the Government for its work to tackle the issue - which is rooted in the mistaken belief that the body parts of people with albinism have value in witchcraft practices.

“I welcome the measures already taken by the Government and civil society, and the decrease in the number of reported attacks,” she said.  “There have been
positive measures to address witchcraft practices, including the registration of traditional healers.”

“However, full oversight over their work has still not been achieved, and confusion still exists in the minds of the general public between witchcraft practice and the work of traditional healers,” the Independent Expert noted.

Ms. Ero highlighted that skin cancer, rather than attacks, was one of the biggest threat to the lives of people with albinism, and said it was another area where more could be done.

“It is heartening to see the Government working in partnership with civil society in health and education, most notably in providing visual aids and in the use of mobile clinics to prevent skin cancer,” she said.

“But these programmes are in dire need of stronger Government involvement, to reach more people and to ensure that the work is sustained.”

Ms. Ero also highlighted concerns over the use of schools as protection centres for children with albinism, which in some cases have evolved from temporary shelters into long-term accommodation.

“Despite the good protective intentions in referring children with albinism to school-based shelters, it appears that they are no longer temporary,” she said.

“Students who go on to secondary school or college have no choice other than to return to the shelters during school holidays as they are simply too afraid to go back to their own homes,” the expert said. “I received similar reports concerning primary school-aged children boarding at these shelters.”

Ms. Ero welcomed a significant reduction in the overall number of children in the shelters, and praised the authorities for their efforts to reunite the children and their families, but added that more work remained to be done.

“The Government must continue educating the public and and strengthening protection measures, as it appears that some communities and families are not ready to receive these children back,” she noted.

During her mission to Tanzania, Ms. Ero met with various high-level officials and civil society organizations. She visited the capital Dodoma and the biggest city Dar es Salaam, and also travelled to the north of the country to visit Mwanza, Shinyanga, Kigoma and Kasulu. 

She met people with albinism, including those who had suffered attacks, and their family members.

The Independent Expert, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, investigates all rights violations against people with albinism in different countries, including assaults, living in fear of attack and being left behind in development goals. She also identifies and promotes good practices, and combats the stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices which lead to human rights abuses.

She will present a full report and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

Ms. Ikponwosa Ero (Nigeria) was designated in June 2015 as the first UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism by the Human Rights Council. Inspired by her experiences as a person with albinism, Ms. Ero has spent the last seven years fulfilling her mandate. As international advocacy and legal officer of Under the Same Sun, an NGO with a focus on albinism, she has participated in multiple activities and panels at the UN in Geneva and New York. She has extensive experience in research, policy development and advocacy in the field of albinism. She is the author of numerous papers and articles on the issue, including with regards to the categorisation of persons with albinism in the international human rights system.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check out our special website: People with albinism: not ghosts, but human beings.

UN Human Rights, country page: Tanzania

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Arnaud Chaltin:
In Dar es Salaam (during the visit): +41 79 109 6873 / achaltin@ohchr.org
In Geneva (before and after the visit): +41 22 917 9188 / achaltin@ohchr.org or write to albinism@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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