GENEVA (10 March 2015) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday expressed revulsion at a recent surge in violent attacks against people with albinism in several East African countries. In the past six months, at least 15 people with albinism in Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi were abducted, wounded, killed or subjected to attempted kidnappings, including three such incidents in the past week alone.
“These attacks are often stunningly vicious, with children in particular being targeted,” Zeid said. “As a result, many people with albinism are living in abject fear. Some no longer dare to go outside, and children with albinism have stopped attending school because of the recent spate of assaults, murders and kidnappings.”
In Malawi alone, at least six incidents have been reported in the first ten weeks of this year, compared to four incidents recorded over the previous two years. In Machinga District, in the south of the country, where several kidnappings and killings have taken place, groups of men are reported to be roaming around hunting for people with albinism.
During the night of 3-4 March, a 14-year-old girl was abducted by two men from Kalombo village, in Machinga District, but managed to escape. The following night, a two-year-old boy called Chakupatsa Stanely was reportedly kidnapped in another village in Machinga called Murukhu. After the boy’s mother screamed for help one kidnapper was caught, but the other two escaped, possibly across the border into Mozambique and the child has now been reunited with his family.
Four other attacks targeting people with albinism have been documented in Malawi since the beginning of the year:
- During the night of 21-22 January, Ida Thomas, a nine-year-old girl with albinism from Chalela Village in Chikhwawa district, was kidnapped while asleep at her aunt’s house. She has not been found, but is believed to have been killed as her bedding was found covered with blood outside the house.
- On 18 January, Malita Makolija, a 68-year-old woman with albinism from Masali village in Zomba District, went missing. The following day, her dismembered body was found near her home, buried next to an ant-hill, minus arms, legs and head.
- On 16 January, two-year-old Ibrah Pillo was kidnapped from her home in Matindira, another village in Machinga District. She has not been seen since.
- On 5 January, 11-year-old Mina Jeffrey was kidnapped during the night by three men, including an uncle, in Saiti village, also in Machinga, but managed to escape. Her uncle reportedly later said he had been promised the equivalent of USD 6,500 for her body. He appeared in court on 28 January in Liwonde, but the case was adjourned.
The situation has also been worsening in Tanzania. Last Saturday (7 March), a six-year-old boy, Baraka Cosmas Rusambo, was attacked in his home in Kiseta village, in Sumbawanga district. The attackers fled with his right hand after cutting it off with a machete. Baraka and his mother, who suffered serious head injuries, are both in hospital. The police have moved Baraka’s two siblings, who also have albinism, to a safer place and have arrested seven suspects, including Baraka’s father.
“Since January, two other incidents have been reported, including the attempted kidnapping of a four-year-old boy, and the atrocious killing of a one-year-old baby, Yohana Bahati, who was kidnapped from his home on 17 February and later killed, with his arms and legs hacked off,” Zeid said.
A total of eight attacks have been reported in Tanzania since August 2014, during which two people with albinism were killed; one was kidnapped and is still missing; two others sustained major injuries and had limbs cut off by attackers; one was gang-raped; and two managed to escaped from their kidnappers.
The High Commissioner stressed the importance of combatting impunity for crimes against people with albinism. “The ban on witchcraft imposed by the Tanzanian authorities in January is a step in the right direction, as is the conviction of four people in Tanzania over the 2008 killing of a woman with albinism,” he said. “However I am concerned at the death sentences pronounced by the Court and I hope Tanzania will maintain its moratorium on the death penalty.”
Zeid called on authorities to prevent attacks on people with albinism in all countries where they are occurring, bring to justice alleged perpetrators and ensure that redress and rehabilitation for survivors and their families are made a priority.
He said that attacks against people with albinism are also taking place in other African countries, including in Burundi, where 19 killings of people with albinism have been reported since 2008. The latest incident took place on 12 December 2014, when a man was found dead, with a leg hacked off. According to reports, 11 people have been arrested in relation to attacks against people with albinism in Burundi, of whom six escaped and one was convicted. The elaboration of a national policy to promote and protect the rights of people with albinism in Burundi has been proposed but not yet initiated.
“All over the world, people with albinism continue to suffer from discrimination and social exclusion,” the High Commissioner said, urging governments to do more to help them lead normal, productive lives. He highlighted the result of a recent study in Pakistan, which showed the multiple layers of human rights problems faced by people with albinism, including social rejection, medical and psychological problems, as well as confinement to poverty.
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