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Persons with disabilities

Disability rights body provides justice to albinism attack victim

22 September 2017

Photo of an albinism attack victim

After a tedious and fruitless battle to seek redress through the national legal system, a person with albinism brought an individual complaint against Tanzania before the Committee on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD), the UN body that oversees States’ compliance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

In 2010, the complainant, who wishes to remain anonymous, was fetching firewood from the bush in the Mbeka Kibaoni area of the Mvomero District, when two men attacked him. His attackers hit him with clubs and when he regained consciousness, Mr. X realised that they had hacked off half of his left arm.

After he received care at the municipal hospital, Mr. X reported the attack to the police. They arrested a man who later was brought before the District Court of Morogoro. As Mr. X did not recognize the accused as one of his aggressors, the investigation into the case stopped.

From there, Mr. X wanted to initiate a civil litigation before a High Court. However, the High Court closest to his region was in the capital, Dar Es Salam, 300 kilometres away from where he lives. As he had no means to reach the Court, it became impossible for him to further plead his case.

Albinism is a rare genetically inherited condition which occurs worldwide regardless of race. It commonly results in the lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure. This can lead to skin cancer and severe visual impairment. The genetic rarity inherited by people with albinism makes their condition difficult to understand socially and medically.

Mr. X filed his complaint to the CRPD in June 2014, contending that his attack took place in a context of particular violence against people with albinism in Tanzania. People with albinism in that country have been suffering different forms of persecution and discrimination grounded in myths and superstition. Many believe that the body parts of people with albinism have magic powers, such as providing wealth and prosperity, which has encouraged the set-up of a successful black market for selling body parts of people with albinism.

Mr. X argued before the Committee that Tanzania violated his rights under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. State authorities, he said, failed to take measures to protect him from physical and mental abuse and to provide him with an effective remedy.  He also said that a complaint which had been submitted in 2009 by a group of people with albinism who had endured similar attacks had not yet been heard by the High Court.

While considering the merits of the case, the Committee pointed out that Mr. X’s “access to justice has been significantly limited: no investigative action seems to have been taken by the competent authorities after the withdrawal of the first prosecution, and his case remains in total impunity more than eight years after the criminal attack he suffered.”

The Committee also indicated that Mr. X had “not been provided with any support from [Tanzania’s] authorities to enable him to live independently again after the loss of his arm and that, generally speaking, [Tanzania] has not adopted any measures to prevent this form of violence against persons with albinism and to protect them therefrom.”

The Committee concluded that Mr. X had been a victim of a direct discrimination based on his disability, in violation of article 5 of the Convention.

The Committee also pointed out that States have the obligation to prevent and punish torture and inhuman and degrading treatment committed by State and non-State actors, and that such cases must be quickly and effectively addressed.

It concluded that the failure by the State to investigate the case and prosecute the suspected perpetrators of the attack resulted in a re-victimization of the author, who endured psychological ill-treatment, and a violation of his physical integrity.

The Committee requested Tanzania to provide Mr. X with an effective remedy, including compensation and the support needed to enable him to live independently again. The Committee also called on Tanzania to conduct an impartial, speedy and effective investigation and to prosecute the perpetrators of the attack.

The Committee will continue its dialogue with Tanzania in order to ensure that the reparation requested is indeed granted to Mr. X.

Eight of the human rights treaty bodies (the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child) may consider complaints or communications from individuals who consider that their rights have been violated by their State if it has ratified the relevant Treaty.

22 September 2017

Photo of an albinism attack victim