IBAHRI denounces death sentence delivered against three in Malawi

Reference is made to a recent court decision to sentence three individuals to death for killing and dismembering a person with albinism in August 2015. See my August 20, 2019 posting for more details (‘Malawi judge sentences three to death for albinism murder.‘) According to research carried out by the Cornell Law School, Malawi operates a moratorium on the death penalty and last carried out an execution in 1992 (webmaster FVDK).

A man was sentenced to death in Malawi for killing an albino teenager

Published: August 23, 2019
By: Our reporter (The Maravi Post)

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is deeply concerned about the recent decision in Malawi to sentence three individuals to death for killing and dismembering a person with albinism in August 2015. The IBAHRI fully supports the enjoyment of all rights by persons with albinism and recognises the challenges Malawi is facing in curbing the heinous attacks against persons with albinism. Despite this, the IBAHRI maintains that the death penalty is not the solution to preventing such odious crimes and goes against the international trend towards its abolition.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘To stop the commission of crimes against human rights, penalties that violate the same fundamental rights cannot be imposed. Attacks against persons with albinism must end, but the punishment that the perpetrators should face must respect international human rights law. We exhort the Malawi government to revise this judgement.’

On Tuesday 14 August 2019, at the High Court in the Mchinji district, Central Malawi, Judge Esmey Chombo passed death sentences on three individuals: Douglas Mwale, Sophie Jere and Fontino Folosani – who were found guilty of murdering and mutilating Priscott Pepuzani, who had albinism, in August 2015. In her ruling, Judge Chombo said the death sentences would send a strong message to other would-be offenders and put an end to such malpractices.

Since 1992, Malawi has had a moratorium on the death penalty, and the mandatory death penalty for murder was eliminated in 2007. African regional standards established by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including General Comment No.3 on the right to life, Resolutions 42 and 136, as well as the Cotonou Declaration on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa , call on State Parties to move towards the abolition of the death penalty. Nevertheless, this is not the first time in recent years that the death penalty has been imposed for this kind of crime. In May 2019, Willard Mikaele was sentenced to death for the murder of Mphatso Pensulo, another person with albinism.

In the denunciation of this recent judgement, the IBAHRI reiterates its recognition of the difficult situation for people with albinism, which is particularly worrying in Malawi and other countries of the region due to frequent ritual killings and trading of body parts. In its 2018 report ‘Waiting to disappear’ International and Regional Standards for the Protection of the Human Rights of Persons with Albinism , the IBAHRI suggests that the legal protection of the rights of persons with albinism needs to be dramatically improved.

The IBAHRI condemns all attacks against persons with albinism and the violation of their rights, but believes that the imposition of the death penalty infringes the universally guaranteed right to life and amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, contrary to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, stated: ‘The death penalty is amongst the worst of human rights violations, where the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment are completely ignored. The decision to resort to the death penalty is incompatible with a country that supports the rule of law and good governance.’

In 2008, the IBAHRI Council passed a resolution stating: ‘the Human Rights Institute shall in the future actively promote the abolition of the death penalty’.

Source: IBAHRI denounces death sentence delivered against three in Malawi

Teenage albino boy killed and dismembered in Burundi

File photo (Getty Images)

Published: August 18, 2019
By: Zamira Rahim 

A teenage albino boy has reportedly been killed and dismembered in Burundi. An albino rights group said the 15-year-old’s body was found late on Saturday, according to the AFP news agency. “The young albino was killed atrociously … his murderers cut his right leg off at the knee, his right arm and his tongue,” said Kassim Kazungu, the head of Albinos Without Borders.

Previous albino killings in the African country have been linked to people practising witchcraft. More than 20 albino people have been killed in Burundi since 2008. (iitalics added by the webmaster FVDK)

In 2016 a five-year-old albino girl was kidnapped from her home by gunmen. The child’s dismembered body was discovered shortly afterwards. (Also see my October 4, 2018 posting).

Burundi’s government has banned witch doctors who claim to perform spells and charms using albino body parts to bring good luck and wealth. But in some areas a complete albino skeleton is worth as much as $75,000 (£62,000), according to the Red Cross. 

Around 500 albino people live in Burundi.

Officials believe killings are carried out by local residents who work with witch doctors in neighbouring Tanzania, where 53 albino people have been killed since 2007 for their body parts. (italics added by the webmaster FVDK).

There are around 170,000 albino people living in Tanzania. 

Source: Teenage albino boy killed and dismembered in Burundi

Related article: 
Albino teen found dismembered in Burundi

Published: August 19, 2019
By: Agence France-Presse

NAIROBI, Kenya – A 15-year-old albino boy has been found dismembered in Burundi a week after going missing, the first such killing in the country in three years, a local albino group said Sunday.

Albinos, who have white skin and yellow hair as a result of a genetic disorder that causes the absence of pigmentation, are killed regularly in some African countries for their body parts, which are used in witchcraft rituals. 

The teenager was found dead late Saturday in the northwest of the country along the Rusizi river separating Burundi from the DR Congo, not far from his home village.

“The young albino was killed atrociously… His murderers cut his right leg off at the knee, his right arm and his tongue,” said Kassim Kazungu, the head of the local association Albinos Without Borders.

More than 20 albinos have been killed in Burundi since 2008, with the last case in 2016 when a five-year-old girl was found dismembered after being taken from her home. 

Kazungu said a four-year-old albino boy had been missing since October 2018 from the village of Cendajuri near the Tanzanian border, but that he had “no hope” of finding him alive.

Some experts believe the demand for albino body parts in Tanzania — where such attacks are the most prevalent — has fueled such killings in border areas.

Source: Albino teen found dismembered in Burundi: association

Headless corpses raise ritual killing fear in Togo (2007 articles)

Published: September 21, 2007
By: John Zodzi – Reuters

LOME (Reuters) – Six grisly murders in Togo in which the victims were decapitated and drained of their blood have raised fears of a resurgence of ritual killings ahead of parliamentary elections in the West African state next month. 

The serial killings occurred last weekend in the southern Vo and Lacs prefectures, east of the capital Lome. The victims included a 12-year-old boy and a 63-year-old woman and their severed heads were carried off by the killers. 

The discovery of the headless corpses has shocked Togolese and triggered a wave of speculation that the killings were ritual murders. This is a practice still found in parts of Africa in which people kill to obtain body parts and blood in the belief they will bring social success and political power. 

Police announced the arrest of four suspects, including one from neighboring Benin, the West African home of the ancient Voodoo religion, who confessed to killing the 12-year-old boy. 

Togo holds legislative elections on October 14, and international observers hope they will strengthen the weak grip of democracy in the small former French colony, which like Benin is wedged between Nigeria and Ghana on the Gulf of Guinea. 

In a society where traditional beliefs still have influence, some Togolese saw a link between the killings and the ambitions of aspiring candidates for next month’s polls. 

“Some of these deputies are ready to do anything to keep their seats and you hear that they’re carrying out sacrifices,” said Joel Attigan, a geography student. 

Others saw the murders as linked to a desire for social advancement. 

“There are too many young rich people in Togo these days. These crimes are linked to these kind of people, who sometimes use human sacrifices to obtain their goals,” said Da Mensa, the manager of a bar and restaurant in Lome. 

Togo’s media have joined the feverish debate, blaming shadowy religious sects in Togo and Benin. 

“We are in Africa, and spilled human blood can reveal many things,” the newspaper Le Magnan Libere said, referring to the witchcraft practice of using blood or body parts for divining or influencing the future. 

The police have been cautious about confirming the ritual killing hypothesis. 

But they said the arrested Benin citizen, Roger Kodjo Hounguiya, had confessed that he was working for a fellow countryman, Jean Goudjo, wanted in Benin for grisly murders involving mutilation. 

The European Union, which froze most of its aid to Togo in 1993 citing the poor democratic record of then President Gnassingbe Eyadema, is sending electoral observers to the polls next month. Eyadema died in 2005 and his son is now president.

Source: Headless corpses raise ritual killing fear in Togo

Related article:

‘Gang behind’ Togo’s beheadings

Published: September 28, 2007, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK 
By: BBC

Togolese police say they are probing what could be a cross-border network of killers after six beheadings in Togo and one in Benin earlier this month.

One of four suspects has admitted he belongs to a gang wanted in Benin for similar crimes, Togolese police say.

The victims were all attacked over a two-day period and their decapitated bodies were drained of blood.

A BBC correspondent says there are fears these are ritual murders for witchcraft purposes ahead of Christmas.

In some traditional practices, human body parts are used in the belief that they make charms more powerful.

According to Togo’s police chief Col Damehane Yark, one of the four suspects in custody has also admitted to killing the youngest victim, a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

The BBC’s Edow Godwin in the Togolese capital, Lome, says the killers struck in the southern districts of Vo and Lac, in Maritime province that borders Benin.

At the same time a teenage girl was beheaded in Benin, 65km from the city of Cotonou in similar circumstances.

Source: ‘Gang behind’ Togo’s beheadings

Lesotho: death sentence in ritual murder case (2006)

The case reproduced below refers to the trial of Sepeni Popo who in 2006 was found guilty of killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi, in what was believed to be a ritual murder. Sepeni Popo was sentenced to death.

I first reported this case – many, many years ago – on my website ‘Liberia: Past & Present of Africa’s oldest Republic‘, notably on the page ‘Ritual killings in other Sub-Saharan countries: Lesotho‘. The case of Sepeni Popo is one of the rare cases still available online. Unfortunately, most links referring to cases of ritual murders reported on these country pages have gone missing over the years, reason why I decided to adopt another approach on the present web site: reproducing literally the articles concerned, but with extensive reference to its origin, giving the original author and publishing house or web site all credits they are entitled to.
(Webmaster FVDK).  

Published: July 26, 2007
By: Lekopanye Mooketsi  

Death row inmate fails to get Court of Appeal reprieve 

The fate of death row inmate, Sepeni Popo lies with President Festus Mogae, after he failed to get a reprieve at the Court of Appeal this week. The condemned prisoner can only escape the hangman’s noose if the President exercises his prerogative of mercy to save him. But Mogae, a confessed retributionist, has never pardoned a death row convict.

Popo was sentenced to death last year, by the Lobatse High Court for killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi in what was believed to be a ritual murder. He confessed that he was promised P1,000 for the murder. Three other men who were charged with him were later acquitted and discharged of murder.

In his appeal, Popo’s lawyer, Themba Joina argued that the trial judge, Ian Kirby was wrong in failing to recuse himself and that the confession statement by his client was wrongly admitted in court.

He submitted that the judge should have found extenuating circumstances and refrained from passing a death sentence. The defence wanted Kirby to recuse himself from the case because at the time it was registered, he was the Attorney General and as result he might have been an interested party.  However, the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no need for Kirby to recuse himself since he did not directly deal with the case when he was Attorney General.

Joina argued that there was no evidence that Popo had been advised of his right to legal representation before the confession statement was taken. He added that the court erred in not ordering a trial within a trial before admitting the confession statement.

Joina submitted that the hand written statement was not produced in court and there was no evidence as to what happened to it.  He said the original statement was the only document which could prove to the court what actually transpired when the confession was made.

The Court of Appeal ruled that that it was clear from the evidence that Popo freely and voluntarily made the statement to a judicial officer. The court was of the view  that this was a particularly brutal murder and the injuries were horrible.

The court ruled that the murder was deliberately planned for a reward. In dismissing the appeal, the judges said there was no evidence to diminish Popo’s moral culpability.

In his confession statement, Popo said a man asked him and his colleagues to get a baboon without fur. He said when they asked him what he meant, the man said he wanted them to find a woman’s private parts for him.
Popo said each of them was promised P1,000 after delivering the goods.  
He said he later arranged with his accomplices to find out what the man was looking for. He went into detail about how they found their prey.

After a drinking session, they later led a woman to an isolated spot where they brutally attacked her. Popo said after they killed the woman, one of his partners cut off a piece of her private parts.

He said they parted after the job was finished and he went to sleep.   Panic struck him the following morning when he realised that his cap was missing.
“When I recalled carefully I came to the conclusion that it was left at the crime scene,” he said.

The confession statement narrates what Popo did up to the time when police spoke to him, including washing his clothes to remove blood stains.  He told the judicial officer about his unsuccessful attempts to get the promised payment after the mission was accomplished.

Source: Death row inmate fails to get Court of Appeal reprieve 

“It felt like a punishment”: growing up with albinism in Tanzania

A must read. Though a very lengthy report that I reproduce here, it contains such a wealth of information on albinism, people living with albinism, their fears, their dangers, the measures taken by the Government of Tanzania, that I thought I must conserve it and present to you.
I will not even try to summarize it or give some sketchy details, judge for yourself. 
(Webmaster FVDK)

Published: February 9, 2019 3:01AM EST
By: Human Rights Watch

Two girls play in the shade of the outer walls of the orphanage in Mwanza, Tanzania. After the orphanage started accepting children with albinism, the walls were secured with barbed wire.@2016 Sacha de Boer

Introduction

Many children with albinism in Tanzania share similar stories of hardship. The “temporary holding shelters” strategy introduced by the Tanzanian government in the late 2000s may have contributed to a decline in the number of physical attacks, but Human Rights Watch observed that it led to the emergence of additional challenges.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 children and young people with albinism, aged 7 to 18 years old, and 26 other people, including family members, education professionals and nongovernmental organizations in the Mwanza, Shinyanga and Simiyu regions of Tanzania. There, we found that Tanzanian government policies designed to protect children with albinism incidentally had a negative impact on their rights to family life, an adequate standard of living and inclusive education. In order to protect their privacy and shield them from potential repercussions, the names of most interviewees referred to hereafter have been changed.

While the Tanzanian government appears sensitive to these concerns, it should now intensify efforts to reinsert children with albinism into their communities and provide them with inclusive education, while continuing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacking children with albinism. By doing so, Tanzania has an opportunity to emerge as a strong African leader in ensuring the safety, inclusion and dignity of people with albinism, as outlined in the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa, the first-ever continental strategy to address violations against people with albinism, adopted in 2017.[1]

What Is The Best Interests of the Child Principle?

The Best Interest of the Child principle derives from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It requires state parties to prioritize the interests of the child in any action that may impact them. This includes taking into consideration the child’s own views and desires, his identity, his need for care and development and his right to a safe family and community environment. These factors should be considered altogether and balanced against one another if in contradiction. State intervention should be based on individual assessments of the particular child whose situation requires it.

Recommendations To the Government of Tanzania

  • Increase public sensitization efforts aimed at dispelling deadly and discriminatory myths about albinism, notably through workshops and public service announcements on radio and television, particularly in rural and isolated communities.
  • Ensure that all teachers in the public education system are trained to adequately provide for the specific needs of children with albinism.
  • Ensure that resources are at the disposal of schools to meet the specifications needed of children with albinism, notably by providing for textbooks and exams with larger fonts and assistive devices to read the blackboard.
  • Pursue efforts to promote the safety of people with albinism by investigating threats and crimes against people with albinism and holding those responsible to account.
  • Work with parents and communities to ensure the safe and orderly reunification of children with albinism with their families, with the goal of progressively dismantling the temporary holding shelters.

Recommendations to International Donors

  • Support projects dedicated to sensitizing the Tanzanian public to albinism and training teachers to provide for the specific needs of children with albinism in public schools.
  • Support the Tanzanian government in reuniting children with albinism with their families and ensuring their return to a safe, inclusive community.

Albinism in Tanzania

Children sitting in a row, among them one child with albinism.
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, and her family attend a Lutheran church every Sunday. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania @2016 Sacha de Boer

Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a deficit in the biosynthesis of melanin, a pigment that colours the skin, hair and eyes. While albinism is a rare condition in Europe and North America, affecting one out of about every 17,000 to 20,000 people, it is slightly more widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa, with prevalence rates of 1 in every 5,000 to 15,000 births.[2] Tanzania’s 2012 national census identified 16,477 people with albinism.[3] Today, it is estimated that there are over 18,000 people with albinism in the country.[4]

People with albinism usually have a paler, whiter appearance than their relatives. The deficit of melanin can also result in low vision and an increased vulnerability to sun’s ultra-violet radiation. Consequently, people with albinism living in Sub-Saharan African are about 1,000 times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.[5]

As noted by the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, “The complexity and uniqueness of the condition means that their experiences significantly and simultaneously touch on several human rights issues including, but not limited to, discrimination based on color, discrimination based on disability, special needs in terms of access to education and enjoyment of the highest standards of health, harmful traditional practices, violence including killings and ritual attacks, trade and trafficking of body parts for witchcraft purposes, infanticide and abandonment of children.”[6]

In many parts of East Africa, people with albinism are targeted for their body parts, which some believe hold magical powers and bring good fortune. Traditional healers and “sorcerers” have over the years claimed that people with albinism are “ghosts” who never die but merely disappear. In 2009, the International Federation of the Red Cross reported that a senior police officer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s economic capital said that the body of a person with albinism could fetch up to US$75,000.[7]

Over the last decade, Under the Same Sun, a Canadian non-governmental organization working to empower people with albinism, estimates that over 200 people with albinism, many of them children, have been killed in Africa or had their body parts amputated. In Tanzania alone, the group reported that at least 76 people with albinism were killed since 2006.[8]NGOs and local groups reported that criminals have stolen bones from the exhumed remains of people with albinism.[9]

The last reported killing, in February 2015, took place in the region of Geita, in Northwest Tanzania, when men abducted a one-year-old baby with albinism from his mother and “hacked [him] to death.”[10] The men were said to have hit the mother with a machete when she refused to hand over her child, an activist who was with her when she woke up at the hospital told Human Rights Watch.[11]

Faced with increased international scrutiny at the end of the 2000s, Tanzania began to mobilize resources to fight off traffickers and protect people with albinism. Local organizations told us that since 2007, hundreds of children were removed from their families, sometimes with no consultation or consent, and placed in shelters where they were effectively isolated from society.[12]

According to activists who spoke to Human Rights Watch, orders from the government to protect people with albinism were enforced by district commissioners, who oversee security in their respective districts.[13]

“There is an order from the district that says that if anything happens to [a] child with albinism, local leaders would be responsible. It something happens, the whole community will be suspected,” the manager of a local organization working with people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[14] “Because no one wants trouble in their backyard, there was a big push from the communities to send the children to the shelters.”

The Tanzanian government also moved to combat impunity for ritual crimes, notably by investigating, arresting and prosecuting those who attack or sponsor attacks against people with albinism. In 2015, the Tanzanian government announced a ban on witchdoctors, which came out of a special joint task force between the police and the Tanzanian Albinism Society. As reported by the BBC at the time, then Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe declared there would be a nationwide effort to “arrest them and take them to court” if witch doctors continued their practices.[15] Over 200 suspects, including some allegedly involved in killings of people with albinism, were reportedly arrested by the authorities.[16]

Ten years after the wave of killings and attacks began, these appear to have decreased because of Tanzania’s protective measures and stronger response to ritual crimes and attacks against people with albinism. The temporary holding shelters, however, remain. “The shelters were emergency, temporary solutions. But 10 years is not temporary anymore,” an activist for the rights of people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[17]

Under international human rights law, children with albinism have the right to live in a family environment. Local NGOs are now making efforts to reunite children and families.[18] The Tanzanian government should do more to reunite families, to combat stigma within communities and ensure that family caregivers have the financial and social support they need to care for these children.

The government’s response should be guided by the best interests of the children involved, and balance the child’s protection and safety with the preservation of the family environment and the enjoyment of other rights. This is particularly important as the government has begun to send some children from the shelters back to their communities.

Key Challenges

Separation from the family and movement restrictions

A girls with albinism seats on a bench in a church
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, in a church on Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

Most of the 13 children and young adults with albinism Human Rights Watch interviewed described how the killings and the ensuing protection measures implemented by the Tanzanian government separated them from their families.

While in many cases, separation was a decision of the parents, five children said they were ordered to go to a shelter or boarding school by government officials (police or district education officers), with no regard for their parents’ consent. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm this assertion from their parents. Once in the shelters or special boarding schools, the children’s freedom of movement was severely curtailed on security grounds.

Marco, an 18-year-old man with albinism, described to Human Rights Watch how his father had been obliged to let him go to the shelter: “When the killings and attacks happened, the government moved me to the Buhangija temporary shelter (Shinyanga region). Police officers came home and spoke to my dad but he refused to take me to Buhangija immediately because he wanted to find out more about it first. The first time, the police left without problems. The second time, they left with me.”

Augustin, a 14-year-old teenager from Shinyanga who was attacked by criminals who cut his left forearms and fingers on his right hand when he was four-year-old, said the district education officer took him to the shelter when he was seven or eight. “He picked me up at a bus stand. At first, no one explained to me why I was being taken there. I was sad at the beginning because I missed my parents. It felt like a punishment. Now, I understand it was to protect me from bad people,” he told Human Rights Watch.[19]

The mother of Victoria, a young woman with albinism from Shinyanga region who stayed for three years in Buhangija, confirmed that parents did not have any choice but to let their children go: “The government wrote a letter to the school Victoria was attending giving notification that children with albinism should be sent to Buhangija [shelter]. We were given a specific date and time by which she had to be there, which was two days later.”

Victoria’s father added: “When the government said we had to bring Victoria to Buhangija, I didn’t know why. There was security here…. But I had to accept the order. I don’t know what would have happened if I had refused.” [20]

NGOs that promote the rights of people with albinism also reported pressure by the government on local schools and the community to send children away to the shelters, by threatening to hold community leaders and members accountable if a child who remained at home was attacked.[21] “For communities, having a child with albinism among them felt like a burden – because you have to provide protection – so the shelters were a good solution to get rid of that burden. You don’t have to respond to police enquiries if something happens,” a national advocate for the rights of people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[22]

In addition, parents of children with albinism and organizations working with people with albinism told Human Rights Watch that regardless of whether children had been voluntarily or involuntarily placed in shelters, once they were under the protection of the state, they were no longer allowed to go home – even for vacations – without a letter from the village chairperson, approved by the district commissioner, guaranteeing the area’s safety.[23] An NGO worker explained the process to Human Rights Watch:

A boy with albinism looks out of the door of a house
Ivan, a 6-year-old boy with albinism, in his home on Ukerewe Island, Tanzania.@2016 Sacha de Boer

The parents [must] first get a letter from the chairperson of the village and then send it to the district commissioner. The chairperson’s letter should say that the area is safe, that we know the child with albinism is visiting the parents. Without the chairperson’s letter, the district commissioner cannot issue his own letter. Some parents complain and say that they have the right to take the children home. But they generally understand.[24]

Severin, a 14-year-old boy with albinism, said he never went home on vacation while he lived in the shelter. “Once in Buhangija [shelter], we were told we needed a letter to be allowed to go home. My parents didn’t try to get the letter. I felt bad not to be with my family during the vacations because I missed them,” he said.[25]

The parents of Victoria, a young woman with albinism who stayed for three years in Buhangija, who have university degrees, said it was easy to obtain such a letter from the authorities. “When the parents are bringing the letter, it assures the school that there is full security in the family and in the village [for children with albinism],” the mother said. “We wouldn’t have been allowed if we had tried to bring [our daughter] home for good. It was impossible to come out of Buhangija [shelter] without permission. There was full security.”[26]

A representative of an international NGO sponsoring the education of children with albinism told Human Rights Watch that these restrictions also apply to children who have been moved out of shelters and into private schools under their sponsorship program.[27]

As a result of the government’s restrictions, some children had not been home for several years, and some were no longer in contact with their family. In one case, Lucy, a 12-year-old girl with albinism, told Human Rights Watch at the time of the interview that she had not seen her mother in two years and did not know where her family was:

I was 6 years old when I got to Mitindo [shelter in Mwanza]. My mother brought me there because she saw the thieves [people attacking children with albinism] and so she took me to the [shelter]. I was left there alone by my mother and I felt sad because she said she’d come back but did not. She came back only once I went [to a private school, where I am being sponsored by an international NGO] in 2015. She came only for one day to ask who was paying my school fees and asked whether they could pay for my brothers too. I don’t know why she hasn’t come back. We don’t get to speak on the phone. I don’t have her number. So I don’t know about my mother and brothers right now.[28]

According to representatives of local organizations working with people with albinism, another reason why some children placed in shelters no longer see their family is because their parents left no records of where they came from, and tracing the family after several years is difficult.[29]“When some parents brought their children to the shelters, some didn’t leave any contacts and in other cases they did but the phone numbers don’t work,” a local NGO worker told Human Rights Watch.[30] A staff member of another NGO said the temporary holding shelters had become akin to orphanages: “Parents took advantage to drop their kids there. Some children with albinism have been there for four or five years now without seeing their parents.”[31]

The separation from family exerts a heavy emotional toll on young children with albinism. Peter, an 18-year-old man who stayed at the Buhangija for eight years, said his brother was the only one visiting him. “I didn’t want to come [to the shelter]. I was too young. I used to cry all the time. I was a child, I missed my mother, my grandmother and my sister,” he told researchers. “Only my brother would come to visit. I did speak with my mother however, maybe once a month by phone. I felt good talking to her but I missed her.”[32]

Despite the difficulties children with albinism face in the shelters, some, including Severin, said they saw advantages in living among other people with albinism: “My parents did not come to visit at Buhangija. But it was good to be with other children with albinism because we felt we had a right to stay in the world.”

To protect children with albinism from physical attacks, a number of shelters and boarding schools have enforced drastic security measures that deprive children of their freedom of movement.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch visited Buhangija, a former boarding school for students with disabilities transformed into a temporary holding shelter for children with albinism in 2009. At the time of the visit, 226 children were living in the shelter, out of whom 142 were children with albinism (the others were deaf or blind children attending the inclusive school located next to the shelter). At the shelter, Human Rights Watch researchers observed a barren compound made up of five dormitories surrounded by tall walls topped with barbwire.[33] Children with albinism who attend class walk about 100 meters to the school. The rest of their free time is spent within the compound, which has no recreation space or trees to provide for shade, useful in helping people with albinism shield themselves from the sun.

“My first impression of Buhangija was that it was so difficult because we were staying in [the shelter] for the whole day and I’m a very mobile person. So I first felt very bad but as days went by, I got used to it,” Marco, an 18-year-old who left the shelter in 2017 told Human Rights Watch.[34]

The principal of a secondary boarding school that caters to children with and without albinism in Mwanza region told Human Rights Watch that the movement of children with albinism is restricted even beyond the temporary holding shelter, and in the case of his school, because it lacks resources to adequately protect them outside the compound: “The main challenge with people with albinism is protection and safety,” he explained. “I’ve been asking since last year for one district policemen to be on site at night but there isn’t enough [district]money to do that. So, we talk to those students and discourage them from walking around alone, especially at night.”[35]

A 15-year-old girl with albinism attending that secondary boarding school said they are not allowed to leave the dormitories: “The environment here is not good. We are not allowed to stay outside because the school doesn’t have enough security. Classes usually finish at 2:15 p.m. and we have to be in our dormitories by 2:40 p.m.”[36]

NGOs have reported that children with albinism living in these shelters are progressively being sent back to their communities.[37] While this is important progress, it is essential that the process of reinserting children in their communities complies with the best interests of the child principle. Authorities should ensure that the views of children and their families are taken into account, that children have access to education in their community, and that the community has protection systems in place.

Such consultations did not take place in the case of Mariam, a seven-year-old girl from Simiyu region, who was reunited with her 85-year-old grandmother. “After she was removed from Buhangija, the government forced me to take care of Mariam because her mother and father are not providing for her, “recalled the grandmother.” This happened without the government consulting me beforehand…. They just dumped the child on me.”[38] Mariam does not attend the local school because, her grandmother said, she could not afford to buy textbooks.

Stigma and bias in the community

A girls with albinism seets on steps, she is seen from the back
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, says that sometimes she would like to be invisible. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

Eight children with albinism interviewed by Human Rights Watch recounted how they experienced stigma and bias in their communities, including name-calling.

Josefina, a seven-year-old living with her grandparents in the Shinyanga region, for example, said other children call her “Mbuliwmelu,” which means “white goat” in the local Sukuma language. “When that happens, it makes me feel sad and very angry, but I stay silent,” she said.[39]

In the Simiyu region, the grandmother of Mariam, a seven-year-old young girl with albinism, said Mariam frequently faced similar experiences:

Most people have a negative perception of Mariam because of her color. They don’t even want to welcome Mariam in their home. If they see her, they’ll see her colour and will see that if she spends too much time in the sun she has sores. If she plays, they fear blood will come out of her. They call her “Mbulimwelu”. Mariam is always sad when they call her like that, and sometimes she locks herself in the house and starts crying. In those cases, I just leave her alone.[40]

In some cases, parents have rejected or attacked their own children. Twelve-year-old Lucy, for instance, now lives at a private boarding school after receiving a scholarship from an international NGO. Choking on her tears, she said her mother told her that her father abandoned her prior to sending criminals to try and kill her: “My mother told me that my father refused me. I don’t want to go back [to my hometown] because it is my father who sent the thieves to get me.”[41]

Despite efforts by the government of Tanzania and NGOs to sensitize the general public in recent years, progress remains fragile, especially in rural areas, where people with albinism continue to face stigma and the rejection of their community and, at times, their own families. This can lead to poor self-esteem among young people with albinism, and difficulties in finding work opportunities later in life. An 18-year-old man with albinism told Human Rights Watch in Shinyanga region that he thought people like him have a harder time at finding work: “My life would definitely be different if I was not a person with albinism. If you have a black skin, you have many more opportunities. You can do the physical work, whereas person with albinism have to be careful because of their skin.”[42]

But, as the parents of four children with albinism pointed out, not all communities and families reject children with albinism. “When I had my first child with albinism, I was happy and thought this was normal. My family was happy too and if they weren’t, they didn’t let it show,” their mother said.[43] “It is the choice of God. God is giving. We should agree with them, be close with them,” their father added.[44]

Barriers to education 

A boy with albinism seats in a classroom with other pupils
On his first day of school, students ran away when Sabato, a ten-year-old boy with albinism, walked into the classroom; they thought he was a “ghost.” The government then sent an education officer to the school to address the issue, but some children still do not want to sit too close to him. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

“People with albinism don’t get education,” a community organizer with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[45] “Firstly because of their low vision. Teachers don’t know how to deal with that. Secondly because [of lack of] interaction [with others]. There is teasing in school. People with albinism face a lack of interaction with local community. People see us as bad people. They see us as people who can’t contribute because of our bad education or lack of education,” he added.[46]

Ensuring a free, safe and dignified access to education is key to upholding the fundamental human rights of people with albinism and to combatting the stereotypes and stigma that continue to expose them to mistreatments and fatal risks.

Children with albinism face a range of barriers impeding their access to education.

Many families of children with albinism for instance are unable to enroll them in school because they lack sufficient income, or fear that having them walk to school may expose them to dangers.[47] The grandmother of Mariam, the seven-year-old girl with albinism, said she is ready to go school but that she doesn’t have the resources to send her. “I wish for Mariam to become a doctor or a teacher. I don’t want her to be a wife. But it costs money to buy books and everything.”[48]

Children with albinism may also face health risks at school due to their sensitivity to the sun. Laura, a 15-year-old student at a public secondary school, told Human Rights Watch that despite efforts to train teachers on the needs of children with albinism, the school still put the health of children with albinism at risk: “This school is not good. They force us to do activities in the sun. Teachers can also punish you if you say you can’t do activities in the sun. They caned me three times and it was very painful.”[49]

In addition, children with albinism do not always get the inclusive education they should be entitled to. In that respect, the existence of the temporary holding shelters and other special boarding schools, while providing safety and an opportunity to attend classes, promotes segregation and denies children the opportunity to learn with their peers without albinism and to feel included in their communities. As 12-year-old Lucy explained to Human Rights Watch, “It was not nice to only be with children with albinism because we stayed without difference – we must mix.”[50]

Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch also said that schools sometimes fail to provide children with albinism with appropriate accommodations for their low vision.[51] This would include assistive devices, such as magnifiers, enlarged printed material, writing in large letters on the blackboard, and seating children with albinism in the front of the classroom.

Gloria, a 14-year-old student with albinism who wants to become an engineer and build airplanes said she had different experiences in public and private schools: “Before, I was going to a public school. I didn’t like it there because there was no good care. In class, the teachers would be writing with small letters on the blackboard. I’d ask them to make the letters bigger, but they’d say that they can’t,” she told Human Rights Watch. “[The private school] was better. They wrote with big letters on the board – it was easier for me to follow the classes and get good grades.” [52]

Some public schools are taking positive steps. The principal of a Mwanza region public secondary boarding school that caters to the general public as well as to several children with disabilities and children with albinism told Human Rights Watch: “There is no segregation. All students are taught together. We have many special education teachers and they are all trained by the government. I insist that children with albinism sit at the front row and that the teachers write with big letters on the blackboards and that exams and other exercises are printed with big font for them,” he said. Yet, the resources are scarce: “We get some equipment from the ministry, but not enough. We have no monoculars [to help children with albinism see the blackboard], for instance.” [53] 

Lawrence is a shy nine-year-old boy who attends public school and his father is very proud of him. “When we took him to school for the first time, teachers were very aware of albinism, maybe they had been trained,” Charles said.[54] “The only challenge Lawrence faces is his vision. Sometimes he has difficulties reading the blackboard [but] he gets support from the teachers and sometimes they explain or move him to the front. Lawrence does very well at school and sometimes is at the first position.”[55]

It is important that all teachers be familiarized with the specific needs of students with albinism and that the schools be provided with adequate resources to ensure they can achieve their full educational potential. More efforts are also needed to sensitize family-members and communities about albinism, to ensure that children with albinism in Tanzania can thrive both inside and outside the classroom.


[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Regional Action Plan on albinism,” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx(accessed January 25, 2019).

[2] United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, A/HRC/37/57/Add.1, January 18-March 23, 2018, para. 12, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/364/15/PDF/G1736415.pd… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[3] Tanzania’s last national census took place in 2012; Ibid, para. 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lekalakala, P., Khammissa, R., Kramer, B., Ayo-Yusuf, O., Lemmer, J. and Feller, L., “Oculocutaneous Albinism and Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Skin of the Head and Neck in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Journal of Skin Cancer, August 12, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549604/ (accessed January 25, 2019).

[6] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism,” https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/albinism/pages/iealbinism.aspx(accessed January 25, 2019).

[7] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “Through albino eyes, The plight of albino people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and a Red Cross response,” 2009, p.5, https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/general/177800-Albinos-Report-E… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[8] Under the Same Sun, “People with Albinism and the Universal Periodic Review of Tanzania,” undated, para 3, https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=2699&file=Cov… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[9] AFP, “Albino attacks drop in Tanzania, but grave vandalism rises: NGO,” News24, November 16, 2017, https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/albino-attacks-drop-in-tanzania-but-g… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[10] Nicola Bartlett, “Albino baby hacked to death in Tanzania’s latest witchcraft related death,“ Mirror, February 18, 2015, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/albino-baby-hacked-death-tanzan… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[11] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[13] Tanzania is a republic made up of 31 regions and 169 districts. Each district operates a security committee, headed by the district commissioner, in charge of enforcing laws.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO workers, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[15] BBC NEWS, “Tanzania bans witchdoctors over albino attacks,” BBC, January 13, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30794831(accessed January 25, 2019); David Smith, “Tanzania bans witchdoctors in attempt to end albino killings,” The Guardian, January 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/tanzania-bans-witchdoctors… (accessed January 25, 2019). The practice of witchcraft has been against the law since the 1928 Witchcraft Act, https://mtega.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Witchcraft-Act-Cap18-as-ame… (accessed January 28, 2018).

[16] BBC NEWS, “Tanzania albino murders: ‘More than 200 witchdoctors’ arrested,” BBC, March 12, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31849531 (accessed January 25, 2019).

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[18] “Just Kids 2016/2017 – The girl with the white skin”, video clip, YouTube, February 13, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQZgW8DUCs0 (accessed January 25, 2019).

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Augustin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (pseudonym), the parents of Victoria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[23] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017; Severin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017; and A.Y. and Z.M. (names withheld), Tanzania, July 2017.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Severin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[26] Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (names withheld), parents of Victoria, Tanzania, July 2017.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Mwanzi (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Marco Ndimo (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with A.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with J.P.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[37] Jesse Mikofu, “Children living with albinism start reuniting with families,” The Citizen, March 20, 2018, https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/News/Children-living-with-albinism-start-re… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Maria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Mwanzi (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with A.Y. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with L.A. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO workers (pseudonyms), Tanzania, July 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Laura (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with Gloria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017; and Laura (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Gloria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with A.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Charles (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[55] Ibid.

Source: “It Felt Like A Punishment”: Growing Up with Albinism in Tanzania

Gabon senator arrested in ritual killing case (2013)

The article reproduced below reminded me of previous reports on ritualistic murders in Gabon. It is a saddening reality that this Equatorial African country has a very bad reputation in this respect. I have been monitoring reports on ritual murders in African countries since the end of the 1990s and Gabon ranks high on the list of counties with ritual killings. (webmaster FVDK)

Gabon senator arrested in ritual killing case

Published: June 8, 2013 / 2:01 PM
By: Reuters Staff
Reporting by Jean-Rovys Dabany; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Louise Ireland
Andrew Lawson

A sorcerer performs a dance in front of a sacred fire in Bitouga, some 600 km from the Gabon capital Libreville, in this September 2007 photo. REUTERS/Antoine

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – A member of Gabon’s senate has been arrested in an investigation into the ritual killing of a 12-year-old girl in the central African nation four years ago, the first time a senior politician has been detained in such a case.

Rising public anger at a spate of ritual killings in Gabon, an oil-rich former French colony on the Gulf of Guinea, sparked a march by thousands of people in the capital Libreville last month after mutilated bodies washed up on beaches.

President Ali Bongo promised the protesters that anyone convicted of such killings would be jailed for life.

Senator Gabriel Eyeghe Ekomie, who was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in December, was arrested on Friday after failing to appear before a court on May 31, his lawyer said.

Eyeghe Ekomie was summoned for questioning by the court after a man convicted of the girl’s killing said at his trial in May 2012 that he did it on the senator’s orders. Eyeghe Ekomie has denied the accusation.

“This is an unjust decision because my client was not correctly summoned,” said lawyer Gisele Eyue Bekale. “We asked the judge to re-issue the summons but he did not. We will continue to appeal this decision.”

Human and animal body parts are prized by some in the region, who believe they confer magical powers. Gabon’s Association for the Prevention of Ritual Crimes estimates that at least 20 people have been killed so far this year and their lips, tongues, genitals and other organs removed. (Bold and Italics mine – FVDK, webmaster).

Earlier this week, a sack containing human genitalia was found in a building in Libreville. An investigation is underway.

Gabon is not the only African country with a black market trade in human organs.

Grave robbers dug up more than 100 bodies in Benin’s capital Cotonou in November. Cameroonian authorities in September arrested five people for trafficking when they were stopped at a checkpoint with a severed human head.

Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism (2011)

I have written extensively about Liberia’s history of ritual killings, in books, articles, and on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic‘, notably in the section ‘Past and Present of Ritual Killings: From Cultural Phenomenon to Political Instrument‘.

I was confronted with the phenomenon of ritualistic murders in Liberia when living in Monrovia – where I taught at the University of Liberia – and, later, in Harper, capital of Maryland County, in the second half of the 1970s. In Harper I witnessed the public execution of the Harper Seven, in 1979. They were convicted of the ritual murder of a fisherman and popular singer, Moses Tweh, and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial of the Harper Seven turned out to be Liberia’s most notorious ritual killing case.

Big shots’ were involved, such as Maryland County’s Superintendent, Daniel Anderson – son of the Chairman of Liberia’s only political party, the True Whig Party – and Allen Yancy, member of the House of Representatives for Maryland County and cousin of former Liberian president William Tubman (1944 – 1971). Reportedly, Allen Yancy had been involved in previous ritual murder cases but he was never convicted, allegedly because of Tubman’s protection.
Ritualistic killings in Liberia have been rampant, and I fear the gruesome practice has far from disappeared – as is demonstrated by the article reproduced below.

The article reproduced below summarizes well Liberia’s recent history of ritualistic murders. What used to be a cultural phenomenon – human sacrifices for the well-being of the clan or tribe – has become a political instrument, used by unscrupulous politicians and businessmen to further their interests.

I will not dwell too long here on these atrocities and outdated but persistent beliefs in supernatural powers. Readers are invited to visit my website for more details.

Last but not least, my publications on ritual murders in Liberia became the prelude to the present website on ritual killings in Africa in general. See the site’s menu, notably the section ‘Why publish this site?

Public execution by hanging of the ‘Harper Seven’, including Maryland Superintendent Daniel Anderson and Representative Allen Yancy, at dawn in Harper, Liberia on February 16, 1979. Picture taken by Fred van der Kraaij (copyrights).


Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism

Published: August 01, 2011 · 10:52 AM UTC
By: Emily Schmall and Wade Williams

MONROVIA, Liberia — The pregnant woman was found dead in the shallows of Lake Shepherd. The fetus had been removed.

A candidate for Liberia’s Senate and a former county attorney are among those standing trial for the 2009 murder, the latest in a long history of ritual sacrifices performed for political power in Liberia.

In this case in southeastern Maryland County, prosecutors were tipped off by a witch doctor who provided a list of 18 people allegedly connected to the killing, including Fulton Yancy, the former county attorney, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Special Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large Dan Morias.

Vials of blood were discovered in Yancy’s home. Nine were charged with murder but were released earlier this month following a Supreme Court ruling.

Liberia will have general elections later this year and the ritual killings tend to flare up during election season, according to Jerome Verdier, former chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

”Unfortunately it happens during elections time because people are competing for political power, they don’t know God and they believe that these supernatural powers will come to them once human blood is shed,” Verdier said.

During Liberia’s two-decades-long civil war hundreds were killed for ritual purposes, the TRC discovered during its hearings.

”During our research at the TRC we found out that bloodshedding was very, very common during the conflict. People killed indiscriminately women and children believing that it would give them some power to continue fighting and that they would be protected,” said Verdier.

Liberia’s Maryland County has traditionally been the hub for the country’s ritual murders. The killings have haunted the southeastern county for decades. In recent years, however, ritual killing cases have cropped up across the country.

Verdier said some of those who confessed at the TRC hearing gave graphic accounts of ritual killings they carried out.

“People went as far as eating their opponent’s body — when such person is killed in battle they cook their body to eat, believing that the spirit, the powerful spirit of that person, will come to them and by eating them, the person’s power is completely destroyed, so there can be no reemergence in that person’s family line or their ethnic line.”

‘General Butt Naked’, a notorious warlord in Liberia’s First Civil war (1989 – 1997) testified and confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he committed numerous ritualistic murders and ate body parts of his victims.

A former warlord who calls himself General Butt Naked and who fought against former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, confessed in 2008 to taking part in human sacrifices that included the killing of a child and “plucking out the heart, which was divided into pieces for us to eat.”

In 2005, the leader of Liberia’s transitional government, Gyude Bryant, pledged to hang anyone found guilt of ritual killing.

Dispatched to Maryland County by President Johnson Sirleaf to calm residents’ fears earlier this year, Justice Minister Christiana Tah acknowledged that “there are still lots of unresolved cases of this nature,” according to a report in the daily New Democrat.

In a case from the 1970s known as the Maryland Murders, seven people, including Fulton Yancy’s older brother Allen Yancy, a member of the House of Representatives, were hanged for killing a fisherman (see picture above). The following year Defense Minister Gray D. Allison was convicted of killing a police officer whose body was discovered on the Bong Mines railroad, apparently used in a ritual sacrifice. The government at the time displayed blood drained in gallons believed to be that of the dead man.

Dan Morias, one of those accused of the 2009 killing of a pregnant woman, is planning to run for senator in the upcoming legislative elections in October. He has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated. He must be cleared of the charges to be eligible to run for office.

Morias is listed in the TRC report for alleged abuses committed while he served as Minister of Internal Affairs for the Charles Taylor regime. When reached by GlobalPost, Morias said he could not comment on the case as it would be “prejudicial,” but insisted that the evidence against him — namely the testimony of a witch doctor — was “weak.”

Earlier this year, President Johnson Sirleaf warned Maryland County citizens against seeking retribution for the killings with a traditional practice called “sassywood” or “trial by ordeal.”

The government insists that trial by ordeal is illegal and Johnson Sirleaf banned the practice in April 2007. Since then traditional leaders have been pleading with the government to allow them to practice the act which they believe is the only way justice can be served in cases like these.

“Sassywood” is the insertion of an accused person’s extremity into hot oil or the placing of a heated metal on a suspect’s body. If the suspect is burned then it is concluded that he or she is guilty but if there is no burn then the suspect is deemed innocent and set free. Those found guilty are killed.

The police are working to stamp out both the ritual killings and the “sassywood” practices, said George Bardue, spokesman for the Liberia National Police: “The police are doing everything possible to make sure that these things do not happen.”

Emily Schmall is a multimedia journalist now based in Monrovia, Liberia, where she serves as country director for New Narratives, a journalism mentorship project for women. Wade Williams is a New Narratives fellow and an editor at FrontPage Africa, Liberia’s most widely circulated newspaper.

Source: Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism
GlobalPost