Amnesty International has been particularly active in exposing the atrocities taking place in Malawi whereby people with albinism are attacked, mutilated and/or killed by ruthless criminals. Much has already been said about the reasons for these attacks – see previous publications – so I won’t repeat this. Moreover, you can read about it in this 2016 publication of Amnesty International reproduced below.
Amnesty International’s cry for justice and to stop the killings of albinos in Malawi was accompanied by a number of examples. Warning: details of these revelations may be experienced as shocking. (Webmaster FVDK)
Published: June 2016 By: Amnesty International
Amnesty International report:
THE BLOODIEST MONTH WAS APRIL 2016 WHEN FOUR PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM, INCLUDING A 2-YEAR-OLD BABY, WERE MURDERED.
There has been a surge in killings of people with albinism in Malawi.
In the southern African country, it is estimated that between 7000-10000 people live with albinism, a rare genetic condition present from birth that results in a lack of pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair.
Attacks increased sharply last year. At least 18 people have been killed for albinism in Malawi since November 2014; five others have disappeared without a trace in that time.
45 incidents were reported last year alone – of murders and attempted murders, abductions and attempted abductions – although the real figure could be much higher, due to the fact that secretive rituals in rural areas are rarely reported. There is also no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.
People with albinism are living in fear
The safe spaces so many of us take for granted – homes and schools – are no sanctuaries. Family members are often involved in the murders and abductions. With the number of attacks on the increase, children are kept away from schools because the journeys there and back are treacherous.
Even after death, their bodies are subjected to grave robberies. Their bones are stolen and sold for use in witchcraft.
There are other challenges faced by people with albinism in Malawi. People with albinism in rural communities (and their families/carers) are seldom given adequate information on the condition, and how to prevent dangerous sun damage. Because of a lack of melanin, people with albinism are sensitive to sunlight, but they are not given access to sunscreens that would make it easier for people with albinism to live normal lives.
David Fletcher, a teenager with albinism, had gone to watch a football match at Tete football ground in Nambirikira village on 24 April when he went missing. On 2 May, police confirmed that David’s body had been found in Mozambique with his hands and feet chopped off.
David was last seen in the company of a colleague who disappeared along with him, who is still missing.
David was reportedly sold to a traditional healer in Mozambique. Two men were arrested in connection with his murder.
WE ARE NOT ANIMALS TO BE HUNTED OR SOLD Read the report (published on this site on April 8, 2019)
Since November 2014, Malawi has seen a sharp increase in human rights abuses against people with albinism, including abductions, killings and grave robberies by individuals and criminal gangs. People with albinism are being targeted for their body parts by those who believe that they contain magical powers and bring good luck. This report focuses on the lived experiences of people with albinism in Malawi in the context of superstition-driven attacks against them and the corresponding government failure to protect the right to life for this vulnerable group and to guarantee their right to security of person.
Amnesty International believes that the actual number of people with albinism killed is likely to be much higher due to the fact that many secretive rituals in rural areas are never reported. There is also no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.
Baby Whitney taken from her home
Two-year-old Whitney Chilumpha disappeared on the night of 3 April from her home in Chiziya village, Kasungu District. Whitney’s mum alerted the neighbours and they set about searching for the toddler, but Whitney was nowhere to be seen. The mother reported her missing daughter to the police.
On 15 April, baby Whitney’s skull, teeth and the clothes she had been wearing were discovered in a nearby village.
Police are keeping Whitney’s father and another man in custody over her disappearance and murder.
Interview with a mother of a child with albinism, 2016
“When I visited my husband’s village with my child for the first time people called my daughter names. They said she looked like a doll. At work when some colleagues heard that I had a child with albinism they said I now have ‘money’.”
Nine-year old Harry snatched from his home
Harry Mokoshini was abducted on the night of 26 February when a gang of men broke into the family home in Moto Village, Machinga district. They took Harry from his mother, threatening and injuring her as they kidnapped her son before her eyes.
Police found Harry’s severed head in a neighbouring village on 3 March.
Harry’s uncle has since been arrested in connection with the boy’s abduction and murder, along with another man who has an existing conviction for possessing the bones of someone with albinism. He had been fined the equivalent of $30 USD for the crime in 2015.
In 2016 Amnesty International published a devastating report on violence and discrimination against people with albinism in Malawi entitled “We are not animals to be hunted or sold’. The title speaks for itself. The reports starts with chapters on Methodology; Background & Context; Legal Framework, and contains informative – and at times shocking – chapters on Discriminatory attitudes in Malawian Society; Attacks, Abductions and Killings of People with Albinism; Other Human Rights Violations and Abuses Experienced by People with Albinism; Violation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Responses to Violations against People with Albinism. The last two chapters are on Conclusions and Recommendations.
The report’s Executive Summary is being presented below. Amnesty International must be congratulated for this thorough analysis of the situation of people with albinism in Malawi. At least, one can no longer say: ‘We didn’t know this happened’. What we need now is ‘action‘. We will judge the government of Malawi on its deeds, not its words. To be followed. (Webmaster FVFK)
“WE ARE NOT ANIMALS TO BE HUNTED OR SOLD” 2016 Amnesty International Report on Violence and Discrimination against people with albinism in Malawi
Since November 2014, Malawi has seen a sharp increase in human rights abuses against people with albinism, including abductions, killings and grave robberies by individuals and criminal gangs. At least 18 (note 1) people have been killed and at least five have been abducted and remain missing. According to the Malawi Police Service, at least 69 cases involving crimes related to people with albinism have been reported since November 2014 (note 2).
People with albinism are being targeted for their body parts by those who believe that they contain magical powers and bring good luck. As a result, Malawi’s 7,000 to 10,000 people with albinism live in fear of losing their lives to criminal gangs who, in some instances, include close family members.
This report focuses on the lived experiences of people with albinism in Malawi in the context of superstition-driven attacks against them and the corresponding government failure to protect the right to life for this vulnerable group and to guarantee their right to security of person. Although the attacks are being committed by criminal gangs and by individuals, the Government of Malawi has an obligation under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to ensure safety for all people in Malawi, including vulnerable groups such as people with albinism.
Women and children with albinism are particularly vulnerable to abductions and killings by criminal gangs, who see them as easier targets. Women also face the danger of rape and sexual abuse as a result of beliefs that having sex with a person with albinism will cure HIV/AIDS.
Senior government officials, including the President, have publicly condemned the attacks against people with albinism and announced a number of measures, including the appointment of a special legal counsel to assist with investigations and the adoption of a National Response Plan. However, these measures have failed to stop the violence. Some perpetrators have been arrested, charged and convicted, but the majority of crimes remain unresolved. Charges and penalties often have not been commensurate with the gravity of the crimes, creating a sense of impunity.
Amnesty International believes that some of the crimes against people with albinism, especially grave robberies, might have been opportunistic and driven by greed, fuelled by rumours that vast sums can be made by selling the bones of a person with albinism. Activists told Amnesty International that poverty and low literacy levels can drive some people to rob graves. These are the people who largely get arrested after being reported by the people they approached believing that they are buyers. There is a widely-held belief that business people are successful because they use magic.
The Malawi Police Service lacks the capacity to carry out thorough investigations, leading to frustration in communities which creates a risk for mob violence. Poor police investigations may also have allowed perpetrators of murders to avoid facing serious charges, particularly in cases where suspects were arrested in possession of human bones. Amnesty International believes that some suspects charged in 2015 with “possession of human bones” – because police assumed that they had been obtained through grave robberies – may have been involved in the actual killings. Amnesty International urges the government to seek, 2015 with “possession of human bones” – because police assumed that they had been obtained through grave robberies – may have been involved in the actual killings. Amnesty International urges the government to seek, as a matter of urgency, international support to conduct investigations, including specialist support for forensic testing and combating human trafficking, in order to bring perpetrators of these gross human rights abuses to justice; in accordance with its regional and international human rights obligations. The police must revisit all cases of suspected grave robberies with a view to establishing the exact source of the human bones.
The identity and motivation of the perpetrators of violence against people with albinism needs to be better understood by Malawi law enforcement agents in order to develop appropriate strategies to counter these crimes. Combatting the widespread mythology surrounding albinism and exposing the public to the fate of people who have committed murder in the hope of selling body parts, must be part of any strategy to stop opportunistic crimes within the community. However, identifying and stopping criminal gangs will require a different approach, including tracing and identifying the source of demand for the body parts of people with albinism and cooperation with neighbouring countries where there is reason to believe people or body parts are being trafficked across borders.
Societal attitudes about albinism are not changing and people with albinism continue to be at risk of attacks. Some victims are abducted and sold by close family members. Violence against people with albinism, including abductions and killings, appeared to be intensifying during the time Amnesty International was compiling the report in 2016.
Beyond the current violence, Amnesty International established that people with albinism experience intersectional human rights violations and abuses based on gender, disability and colour. Their economic, social and cultural rights are equally compromised in debilitating ways. Most specifically, societal ignorance about albinism has contributed to exclusion, stigmatization and denial of basic rights such as the right to education and health. The killings and abductions have exposed centuries-old problems of discrimination against people with albinism.
Societal misunderstanding of albinism in Malawi has endangered the lives of this population group; it has created insecurity and widespread discrimination. In everyday life people with albinism are frequently treated as less than human. They face stigmatization and other insurmountable barriers to the full enjoyment of their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. They also face significant barriers to their participation as equal members of society.
In order to address the root cause of the problem, Amnesty International is urging the Government of Malawi to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with albinism, and to foster respect for their rights and dignity.
Amnesty International is also urging the Malawian government to increase awareness of public health interventions for albinism in order to better address the medical, psychological and social needs of this vulnerable group. The government must provide affordable (or free) sunscreen to people with albinism at all government health facilities and distribute them through community health centres.
The government must also create a conducive learning environment for people with albinism and other disabilities, including by providing learning devices like magnifying glasses, bigger font size in textbooks and other reading materials; sensitize teachers and school administrations about the needs for learners with albinism and adopt measures to end bullying in schools.
Note 1: Amnesty International’s figures are based on cases that the organization was able to verify. The number of the actual killings is probably higher. The major challenge to getting the exact figure of victims is the absence of systematic documentation of attacks.
Note 2: Data made available to Amnesty International by the Malawi Police Service on 11 April 2016.
On more than one occasion I have drawn attention to ritual murders and other human rights violations in Malawi, notably the attacks on people with albinism by unscrupulous individuals who mutilate or even kill their fellow-Malawians for private gain, wealth, power and/or prestige. In Malawi, persons with albinism are facing these dangers today, but the problem has a long history in the country (in fact, not only in Malawi but also in other countries in Southern Africa, even beyond the region, but this is not the proper place to dwell on this topic). There have been numerous cases of attacks on albinos in the recent past as wel as in the more distant past. In 2016 a United Nations expert on albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, herself an albino, warned that the situation in Malawi constitutes an emergency. Unfortunately, the situation has not improved since her warning, as recent attacks and murder cases amply demonstrate. Read below what Ikponwosa Ero said in 2016. (Webmaster FVDK)
UN: People with albinism in Malawi face ‘total extinction’
Published: April 29, 2016 By: BBC
Malawi’s estimated 10,000 albinos face “extinction” if they continue to be murdered for their body parts for use in witchcraft, a UN expert has warned.
Ikponwosa Ero said that the situation “constitutes an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions”.
Her call came after two men received a 17-year jail term for murdering a 21-year-old woman with albinism.
Ms Ero said Malawi police have recorded 65 attacks, abductions and murders of albinos since the end of 2014.
Albinos were targeted because of beliefs that their body parts “can increase wealth, make businesses prosper or facilitate employment”, said Ms Ero, the UN human rights council’s expert on albinism.
“Even in death, they do not rest in peace as their remains are robbed from graveyards,” she added.
Ms Ero, herself an albino, said there are economic motivations.
“Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and the sale of body parts of persons with albinism is believed to be very lucrative.”
People with albinism, who lack pigment in their skin and appear pale, are regularly killed in several African countries including Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Published: December 18, 2015 Updated 16:22 GMT By: Reuters
Ritual killings, witch trials go unpunished in Liberia
DAKAR, Dec 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Liberia must tackle a widespread culture of impunity for perpetrators of ritual killings and trials of ordeal and put its human rights obligations before such traditional practices, the United Nations rights chief said on Friday.
Authorities are reluctant to investigate or prosecute such cases, fearful of a backlash from practitioners and politicians, while some state officials are even part of the secret societies that perform the practices, said a U.N. report.
Women, children, the elderly and the disabled are the main victims of harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and initiation into secret societies, it said.
“Criminal offences perpetrated through harmful traditional practices often go unpunished due to their perceived cultural dimensions,” said the joint report from the U.N. Mission in Liberia and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This has generated a widespread culture of impunity among traditional actors,” it said.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last month vowed to crack down on those responsible for a rise in ritual killings in the West African nation.
Nine cases of suspected ritualistic killing have been reported to the United Nations since 2012, but local media say there have been at least 10 related murders since this summer. (italics added by the webmaster FVDK).
They occur in some African nations due to a belief that body parts can work magic to obtain success or political power.
It is not yet clear why ritual killings are rising, but the report warned of an increase ahead of national elections in 2017, and some residents have speculated that presidential hopefuls are using black magic to boost their chances.
The report also documented the prevalence of FGM, widely performed by the women’s secret society Sande, and abductions, torture and gang-rapes carried out by the male society Poro.
Many women and children in Liberia are accused of witchcraft, and face “exorcism” rituals, trials by ordeal, expulsion or even death, according to the report.
The trials involve the accused being subjected to pain, such as poison or burning, to determine their innocence or guilt.
“Liberia’s human rights obligations must take precedence over any local practices considered to be ‘cultural’ or ‘traditional’ where such practices are incompatible with human rights,” said U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
The following article can be found in the AllAfrica archive, which requires a subscription. Unfortunately, the original article, which was published by The News, a Liberian newspaper, is no longer available on the internet. Interested readers are advised to follow the instructions below. (Webmaster FVDK).
The Recent Wave of ritual killings in Liberia have got the entire country petrified, particularly in Monrovia where the bodies of several people allegedly killed for ritual purposes are found. These killings continue to occur in spite of commitment by the Liberian government that it would deal with the situation.
Last Month, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf vowed to crack down on those responsible for ritual killings in the country. Yet, it would appear no progress has been made by the government to set a dragnet for those responsible for killing innocent men, women and children.
You must be an allAfrica.com subscriber for full access to this article.
In Malawi, attacking, mutilating and killing persons with albinism is rampant. Body parts of albinos are mistakenly believed to bring power and wealth. Not a year passes without one or more reports of these heinous crimes. The following example merely illustrates this and definitely is no exception.
In November 2015 three men attacked a 17-year old boy with albinism, Alfred Chikalo, and nearly killed him with the intention to sell his body parts. It was not the only case of attacks on people with albinism in 2015. Police in Phalombe district arrested the three culprits who confessed hacking Alfred Chikalo. A few weeks later, Police in Phalombe district arrested a 29-year old man, Lawo Sambani, who was accused of being the mastermind behind the plot to attack the 17-year old boy. The victim sustained deep stab wounds in the head, both arms and on the upper part of his left leg. He was rushed to the hospital and discharged a couple of weeks later.
It was announced that the four men in police custody will be brought to court. Unfortunately, since their detention, nothing is known about their trial. To be continued. (FVDK)
More details in the following articles (warning: the original articles contain a graphic picture showing the victim):
Published: February 24, 2019 By: Wongani Chiuta – Nyasa Times
HRDC (Human Rights Defenders Coalition) headperson Timothy Mtambo says the State has become a suspect in the abduction of people with albinism and killing them for ritual.
Mtambo’s comments in the press follows preliminary findings of an autopsy for the late Buleya Luke, a key suspect in the abduction of a 14-year old albino boy Goodson Makanjira in Dedza, that has revealed he was electrocuted, then hit with metal bars.
Another suspect in the abduction of a 18-year old baby with albinism Eunice Nkhonjera, Donald Msafiri, 61, allegedly committed suicide a day after being interrogated by police in Karonga.
Mtambo claimed the killing of people with albinism is a result of a leadership crisis facing the country.
“This madness is happening because of leadership failure from the Commander-in-Chief, Inspector General of Police and the Minister responsible for Homeland Security. This government is a big failure and we will hold them accountable, no matter what.”, Mtambo explained in comments reported by Nation on Sunday newspaper.
The late suspect was alleged to have offered K800 000 to buy Goodson, who is still missing in Dedza.
Lule has become the third suspect to die while on trial related to abduction of persons with albinism since 2015. All the three cases have the police involved. In 2015, another suspect charged in connection with abduction of a two-year old girl with albinism in Machinga died in the hands of the police after he allegedly jumped from a cruising police vehicle. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK).
A HRDC statement made available to Nyasa Times signed by Mtambo, said these deaths [of key suspects] smack of foul-play, adding, it is too tempting to conclude that there are powerful forces orchestrating them.
“Firstly, we strongly believe that these deaths are mafia-like planned and executed just to frustrate investigations that would lead us to alleged markets and lords behind these heinous crimes.
“Secondly, we at HRDC and indeed all well-meaning Malawians are tempted to think that those that we have entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the perpetrators of these inhumane acts are deliberately failing to do their job,” reads the statement.
The government is under fire for not doing enough to protect people with albinism as cases of attacks and killings continue to rise since 2014.
Amnesty International (AI) has since taken swipe at Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi for insinuating that attacks on persons with albinism (PWA) were not yet at crisis level.
AI, a global movement of more than seven million people in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end abuses of human rights, said in a statement Thursday that the ‘shameful denial comments’ are fuelling attacks against persons with albinism.
During a news conference in Lilongwe on Tuesday, Dausi is on record to have said that the attacks on persons with albinism were yet to get to levels where they should hold vigils at State House or seek asylum in other countries.
In the Thursday statement, AI deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda said remarks by Dausi will only embolden those perpetrating the assaults and are a disturbing reminder of the government’s inaction on the issue.
She said: “The latest comments from Minister Nicholas Dausi are yet another indication that persons with albinism in Malawi are on their own when it comes to their safety and security.”
Mwananyanda has since urged the government to promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate the recent attacks against persons with albinism and ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice.
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
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.
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
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. Tanzania’s 2012 national census identified 16,477 people with albinism. Today, it is estimated that there are over 18,000 people with albinism in the country.
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.
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.”
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.
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.NGOs and local groups reported that criminals have stolen bones from the exhumed remains of people with albinism.
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.” 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.
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.
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.
“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. “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. Over 200 suspects, including some allegedly involved in killings of people with albinism, were reportedly arrested by the authorities.
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.
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. 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.
Separation from the family and movement restrictions
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.
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.” 
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. “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.
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. An NGO worker explained the process to Human Rights Watch:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.“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. 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.”
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.”
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. 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.
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.”
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.”
NGOs have reported that children with albinism living in these shelters are progressively being sent back to their communities. 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.” Mariam does not attend the local school because, her grandmother said, she could not afford to buy textbooks.
Stigma and bias in the community
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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. “It is the choice of God. God is giving. We should agree with them, be close with them,” their father added.
Barriers to education
“People with albinism don’t get education,” a community organizer with albinism told Human Rights Watch. “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.
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. 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.”
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.”
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.”
Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch also said that schools sometimes fail to provide children with albinism with appropriate accommodations for their low vision. 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.” 
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.” 
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. “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.”
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.
 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).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Augustin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (pseudonym), the parents of Victoria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 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.
 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Severin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (names withheld), parents of Victoria, Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Mwanzi (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Marco Ndimo (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with J.P.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.
After a recent “savage” killing and the abduction of a one-year-old baby in Malawi, United Nations experts have urged the Government to take immediate action to protect people with albinism and “end the ongoing atrocities”.
“We urge the authorities to step up their investigations into these incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the experts said in a statement on Friday.
People with albinism are born with lighter than normal skin, hair and eye colour, making them sensitive to the sun and bright light. In some communities they are attacked or even killed for their body parts which are erroneously believed to possess magical powers.
Since 2014, 150 cases of killings, attacks and other human rights violations against persons with albinism have been reported in the southeast African nation. (Italics added by the webmaster, FVDK).
Despite various moves to support people with albinism, “the recent attacks demonstrate that the Government needs to redouble its efforts to end the ongoing atrocities,” according to the experts.
“We call on the Government to urgently address the root causes of these attacks and to strengthen nationwide campaigns to raise awareness, conduct robust investigations and prosecutions in all cases, increase protection for victims, and finance and implement all necessary measures,” stressed the experts.
UN experts fear that presidential and legislative elections due to take place in late May, could further aggravate the situation for persons with albinism. Killings and attacks often spike during election periods “because of false beliefs that their body parts can bring good luck and political power when used in witchcraft-related rituals,” the UN human rights experts said.
Some witchcraft practices result in “serious human rights violations”, such as torture, murder, discrimination and exclusion, including banishment from communities, they added.
“These two incidents are part of a larger disturbing pattern in Malawi where ritual killings and egregious human rights violations of the worst kind are instigated specifically against persons with albinism,” they underscored. “The attacks and violations are astonishing in their brutality.”
“We call on the authorities to ensure the deployment of adequate police and law enforcement personnel to protect persons with albinism where they live,” the experts concluded.
The experts also expressed concern at the reported backlog of cases of human rights violations and crimes against persons with albinism, noting that to date, there have been very few prosecutions, giving the impression of impunity.
The United Nations in Malawi is concerned by the continued gruesome attacks on persons with albinism and strongly condemns the savage killing of Yasin Phiri, aged 54, at Kande in Nkhata Bay on the eve of the new year. The UN is also concerned that there has not been progress to trace 12-year old Joseph Kachingwe who went missing on 6th July 2018.
This latest attack and other violations perpetrated against persons with albinism are a setback to the concerted efforts in the protection of people with albinism.
The UN once again calls upon the Government and all relevant stakeholders to redouble their efforts to effect immediate measures to protect persons with albinism as we go towards elections and implement the National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism. The plan addresses the root causes of attacks on persons with albinism, including a nationwide awareness raising campaign, strengthened investigations and prosecutions, together with strengthened protection and victim assistance measures. If these measures are not accelerated, we will continue registering human rights violations against persons with albinism.
We urge the authorities to ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of Yasin Phiri, and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice. We further call upon the authorities to fast-track the investigation and prosecution of outstanding cases on violation of rights of persons with albinism to avoid cultivating a culture of impunity in Malawi.
The UN remains committed to supporting the Government and people of Malawi to proactively promote and protect the rights of persons with albinism and ensure their full participation in the protection measures and socio-economic development of the country in an environment free of stigma, discrimination and physical attacks.
Mr. Benoit Thiry United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. in Malawi
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. The vision of Ms. Ero’s mandate is driven by the cross-cutting principle of the UN Sustainable development goals: “leaving no one behind…starting with the furthest behind first.” Ms. Ero has over a decade of experience in the research, policy development, and practice of human rights concerning persons with albinism. She has advised organizations and governments around the world on human rights concerning persons with albinism. As the International Advocacy and Legal Officer for Under the Same Sun — an international organization with a focus on albinism — she developed strategic initiatives involving regional and international human rights mechanisms, prepared guiding documents, and oversaw the implementation of recommendations made by the UN and other human rights organizations. Ms Ero is also the author of numerous papers and articles, particularly with regards to applicable legal frameworks as well as the development and implementation of special measures to facilitate the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
On numerous occasions Liberian leaders have publicly denounced the ritual murders that take place in the country. We can mention President William Tolbert (1971-1980), Gyude Bryant (Chair of the Transitional Government after the Second Civil War, 2003-2006) and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-2018). The fact that the presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor were not so outspoken on this subject, certainly not in public, has special reasons……..
The article below on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s warning and reaction does not constitute the first and only time that she denounced the phenomenon of ritualistic killings in her country. More on it at a later stage. (Webmaster FVDK)
Published: November 20, 2015 By: The Guardian
Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vowed on Thursday to crack down on those responsible for a rise in ritual killings in the west African country as it seeks to emerge from the shadow of an Ebola epidemic.
In some areas of central Africa, body parts are prized for their supernatural powers and are used in black magic ceremonies. Local media have reported at least 10 related murders in Liberia in the past few months. (Italics added by the webmaster, FVDK).
Johnson Sirleaf said in a speech: “We are witnessing the rise in what appears to be ritualistic killings and armed robbery in the country, thus threatening our security.”
“I am instructing the security forces to rigorously enforce the law to the letter and bring this ugly situation under immediate control.”
It is not yet clear why ritual killings are rising and Johnson Sirleaf offered no explanation. Some residents have speculated that presidential hopefuls seeking to replace Johnson Sirleaf when her final term expires in 2017 are using black magic to boost their chances.
Liberia was declared Ebola-free for the second time in September after reporting more than 4,800 deaths but its economy is struggling to recover.
Johnson Sirleaf said in the same speech she would seek to boost power supply and access to electricity and build additional infrastructure in the last two years of her term.