Reports on ritual killings in Madagascar are rare – which should not be understood as being the same as the absence of ritualistic murders – but the position of people with albinism (PWA) on this large Indian Ocean island is fragile, as I reported earlier this year (see my April 3 and June 16 postings).
A recent attack on a child with albinism in Ikongo, about 50 miles southeast of the capital Antananarivo, angered a mob which subsequently tried to invade a police station where four suspects of the kidnapping were being held in custody. The consequences can be read below.
The rule of law is a good thing, mob justice cannot be tolerated, but questions can be asked about the conditions and reasons which prompted police officers to use their deadly weapons.
Apart from this question, we would like to know the outcome of the interrogations of the four suspects and – above all – which measures the government of President Andry Rajoelina is taking to improve and protect the position of people with albinism on this large island.
Madagascar is an island situated east of the African continent, in the Indian Ocean, separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel.
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and the world’s second largest island-country (after Indonesia). It has a population of nearly 30 million people (2022). (webmaster FVDK)
Cops shoot dead 14 people and wound 28 in Madagascar as they open fire on crowd trying to break into police station to kill four men accused of kidnapping albino child
A crowd of 500 angry villagers descended on the Ikongo police station
They were demanding officers hand over the four alleged kidnappers
When they refused to back down, police opened fire, killing 14 people
Police in Madagascar have shot dead at least 14 people and wounded 28 others after opening fire on a crowd of protesters angered at the kidnapping of an albino child.
A crowd of around 500 angry villagers armed with machetes and knives descended on the local police station in Ikongo calling for the release of the four suspects arrested yesterday, so they could be dealt with by the mob.The demonstrators then ‘tried to force their way in’ to the station, a police officer told AFP.
‘There were negotiations, the villagers insisted,’ the officer said over the phone, adding police fired smoke grenades and shots in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
‘They continued to force their way through… We had no choice but to defend ourselves,’ the police officer said.
Local doctor Tango Oscar Toky said ‘nine people died on the spot’ and another five died later in hospital.
Nine of those injured were in a critical condition, he said.
‘The gendarmes… fired on the crowd,’ local lawmaker Jean-Brunelle Razafintsiandraofa in the southeastern town of Ikongo told AFP.
Some sub-Saharan African countries have suffered a wave of assaults against people with albinism, whose body parts are sought for witchcraft practices in the mistaken belief that they bring luck and wealth.
Because of the superstition, their body parts can be sold for thousands of dollars and they are often targeted in ritual killings.
Some believe that having sex with an albino woman can also cure AIDS.
The kidnapping took place last week, according to Razafintsiandraofa, an MP for the Ikongo district about 50 miles southeast of the capital Antananarivo.
No further details were immediately available.
Madagascar, a large Indian Ocean island country, is ranked among the poorest in the world.
For completeness sake I am posting the following news about the death in detention of the Malawian priest who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a man with albinism – see my July 1 posting on the subject.
Attacks on people with albinism are not rare in Malawi: reportedly, in 2021 there were at least 170 such attacks since 2014, with 20 of them being murders. (webmaster FVDK)
Malawi priest jailed for killing man with albinism dies
Published: July 21, 2022 By: Frederick Nzwili, Catholic News Service
Father Thomas Muhosha, a Malawian priest serving a 30-year prison sentence for the murder of a man with albinism, died July 19 while undergoing treatment in a local hospital.
The 50-year-old priest was sentenced June 27 alongside five other suspects, who received life sentences, for the 2018 murder of Mcdonald Masambuka.
The Malawi bishops’ conference said it regretted announcing the death of the priest of the Diocese of Zomba while undergoing treatment at Zomba Central Hospital.
“Rev. Dr. Muhosha was not in full communion with the church. He was serving a prison sentence after being convicted in a case of albino killing. The Catholic Church in Malawi deeply regrets his death,” Father Henry Saindi, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, said in a statement.
The priest had been admitted to the hospital to undergo mental health treatment, according to local news reports.
Days after the priest’s sentencing, Archbishop George Desmond Tambala of Lilongwe, bishops’ conference president, told Catholic News Service that the church will let justice take its course.
“We as a church always preach about justice. We have always stood by the people who are victims. We will let justice take its course. We stand by the rule of the law,” he said June 29.
In the sentencing, the judge said Father Muhosha had planned to traffic and sell the body parts of Masambuka, who the killers had lured to death after lying to him that they had found him a wife.
The victim had gone missing from his home in a village in southern Malawi in February 2018. Nearly a month later, his burned limbless body was found buried in a shallow grave in the home of one of his killers.
Malawi has a recent history of violent attacks on people with albinism. In 2021, Amnesty International reported the occurrence of at least 170 such attacks since 2014, with 20 of them being murders.
Today’s posting and included article are a follow-up to a previous posting earlier this year, reporting the conviction of a Catholic priest and 11 others who had been on trial accused of murdering a man with albinism, MacDonald Masambuka, in 2018 (see my posting of May 4, 2022). Malawi is one of the unsafest places in Sub-Sahara Africa for people with albinism. Amnesty International has reported that at least 170 crimes targeted people living with albinism in Malawi since 2014. An estimated 20 of them were murders.
Though we welcome the rule of law leading to the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of the murderers of 22-year old MacDonald Masambuka, there is still a long way to go before all perpetrators of heinous crimes targeting people with albinism in Malawi face the full weight of justice. (webmaster FVDK)
Malawi priest sentenced to 30 years for murder of man with albinism
The killing of people with albinism is linked to rituals associated with witchcraft
Published: June 30, 2022 By: Fredrick Nzwili – Catholic News service
The Church will let justice take its course after the High Court in Malawi sentenced a priest to 30 years in prison for the murder of a man with albinism, said Archbishop George Desmond Tambala, president of the Malawian bishops’ conference.
Five other suspects were handed life sentences. One of them was the victim’s brother.
“We were shocked and we stand by the victims of that very terrible crime,” Archbishop Tambala told Catholic News Service June 29. “We have offered all the cooperation to see justice is done. We are shocked and we are at pains.”
“We as a church always preach about justice,” he added. “We have always stood by the people who are victims. We will let justice take its course. We stand by the rule of the law.”
The court handed down the sentence June 27. A judge sitting in the city of Blantyre said Father Thomas Muhosha had planned to sell the body parts of MacDonald Masambuka, 22, violently killed in 2018. Masambuka was lured into a death trap after his killers lied that they had found him a wife.
The victim went missing from his village in southern Malawi in February 2018. Nearly a month later, his burned, limbless body was found buried in a garden at the home of one of his killers.
“There is an issue with our African culture, and I think the whole church in sub-Saharan Africa needs to confront some beliefs, which I think are very dangerous”
Recently, Malawi has experienced violent attacks on people with albinism. Last year, Amnesty International reported the occurrence of at least 170 crimes targeting people living with albinism in Malawi since 2014; 20 of them were murders.
“It’s very unusual and not part of us. The whole issue of killing albinos is very strange in Malawi. We do not know how we ended up in this kind of issue,” said Archbishop Tambala.
The attacks are driven by superstitious beliefs that body parts and bones from albinos bring wealth or good luck to those who possess them. Such cases also have been reported in Tanzania.
Although many hoped the sentencing in Malawi would deter any other future attacks and killings, Archbishop Tambala thinks otherwise.
“I think we need to go beyond that,” he said. “There is an issue with our African culture, and I think the whole church in sub-Saharan Africa needs to confront some beliefs, which I think are very dangerous.”
In a recently released document of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks, it is being reported that “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.
In the document, 19 Sub-Sahara African countries are mentioned as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, ritual attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.
The 19 SSA countries are scattered across the continent and it is believed – in view of the scarcity of data – that the cases which have come to light only constitute the tip of the iceberg.
It goes without saying that there is no place in the 21st century for these practices and crimes.
Warning: Some readers may find the following story disturbing (webmaster FVDK).
Cult-related attacks against children still occur in at least 19 SSA countries
Published: June 2, 2022 By: LUSA – Macau Business dot com
Angola is the only Portuguese-speaking African country mentioned in a report released on Wednesday by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) on the practice of ritual attacks against children.
In the document, “Revealing Our Hidden Shame – Addressing Charges of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks”, presented Tuesday in a video conference from Addis Ababa, “hundreds of thousands of children in Africa are believed to be accused every year of what is widely regarded across Africa as a particularly heinous crime: witchcraft”.
ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki argues in the introduction that “across the African continent, much has been done to improve laws and policies aimed at ending violence against children.”
“Some progress has been made in establishing the systems and structures needed to implement and enforce these policies and laws. These efforts, however, have not sufficiently addressed an important dimension of violence against children: accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks,” it adds.
In the document, 19 countries are referenced as the scene of cases of the commission of rural infanticide crimes, attacks against children with disabilities, attacks against children with albinism and cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft.
“The report documents, to the extent possible in light of the scarcity of data, how widespread accusations of witchcraft are across the continent (although they vary in extent over time and from place to place). Best estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of children face accusations every year in Africa and subsequently suffer serious violations.”
Examples given by the document point to reported cases of ritual infanticide in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Niger, while Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Essuatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Zimbabwe have reported ritual attacks on children with disabilities.
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania have reported attacks on children with albinism and in South Africa, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania cases of violence against children accused of being witches are reported.
“To protect children from the harm of witchcraft accusations, it is not necessary to deny that ‘witchcraft’ exists. Instead, it is important to prioritise child protection while preventing child abuse by addressing the belief that such abuse can somehow protect communities from perceived danger,” the document argues.
The research that resulted in the report found that with the exception of work done by some non-governmental organisations, “few organisations and states in Africa make systematic efforts to prevent such abuse”.
“Few prohibit accusations. Services for children who have suffered harm and violence related to accusations are few and far between. This area needs urgent attention,” argues the report.
Joan Nyanyuki argues “a comprehensive and coordinated effort by state and non-state actors is needed to uncover the nature, magnitude and impact of violence related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. This approach will ensure that child protection systems, laws and policies are enhanced to adequately address these forms of violence against children.”
Saving Africa’s Witch Children (dated June 22, 2009) reporting on how thousands of small children in Nigeria are branded witches. The web page also contains a large number of news reports and articles (2005-2009) including websites of organizations fighting against these cruel and illegal practices.
It is unprecedented what recently happened in northern Malawi, in the Chitipa district, which is the country’s most northern district, near the Malawian-Zambian border. The police have asked witchdoctors and traditional herbalists to help in the protection of people with albinism (PWA).
Malawi has a relatively large number of people with albinism, an estimated 10,000. Attacks on them are frequent, people with albinism fear for their lives every second of the day. Reportedly, more than 200 attacks, kidnappings, mutilations and murders of persons with albinism have occurred since 2014. However, it must be feared that the real number is higher since not all incidents have been reported.
Witchdoctors are allowed to practice in Malawi though – of course – officially the Malawian law does not recognize witchcraft. Superstition, however, is widespread in the country, hence also the use of the services of witchdoctors, an unknown number of them being somehow associated – to say the least – to the attacks on persons with albinism.
The cry for assistance from the Malawian police directed to witchdoctors and traditional herbalists is therefore remarkable. Is it comparable to asking mafia leaders help fighting murderers, kidnappers and other bandits? I don’t know whether this comparison is justified or whether it holds. In any case, the police asking witchdoctors to help against attacks on persons with albinism is a sign of incapacity, read: disqualification. If the police is unable to uphold the rule of law, Malawians have a serious problem and it is high time to have a serious debate on the organization and funding of the police force.
Recently, Amnesty International concluded that the trial of suspects of ritual murders is slow in Malawi. The question seems warranted: Is there a lack of political will? After all, it is common knowledge that in the past political forces and people have been implicated in the attacks on persons with albinism for ritual purposes. I have reported on these links on more than one occasion (e.g. see a recent posting dated April 30, 2021, and my postings of February 26, May 12, and August 28, 2019). If this lack of political will is indeed the case, turning to witchdoctors for help is close to hypocrisy and useless, ineffective, and the problem will not be solved, the human rights of persons with albinism will continue to be under threat. (webmaster FVDFK)
Malawi: Police Ask ‘Witch-Doctors’ for Help Against Attacks On ‘Albinos’
Published: May 4, 2021 By: Nyasa Times – Gladys Chingaipe
“This would help to provide more protection to people with albinism.”
In an unprecedented manner, police in the northern tip of Malawi have gone on their bended knees and asked traditional herbalists and witchdoctors to help them in the fight against the incessant attacks on people with albinism.
Chitipa Police Station Officer, Dan Sowden in a desperate attempt to end the ongoing ritual killings and egregious human rights violations of the worst kind instigated specifically against people with albinism in the district and the country as a whole has asked traditional healers to work hand in hand with the police.
Snowden made the call last week during a meeting with herbalists and witchdoctors at Chitipa Boma where he expressed a growing concern and explained that there is a general outcry that herbalists and witchdoctors are suspected to be involved in attacks on people with albinism, hence the need to include them in efforts to end the vice.
He said: “We have established that it could be that those who are involved in the vice are not perhaps the real herbalists or genuine witchdoctors but may be some unscrupulous people with evil motives just posing and impersonating as herbalists and witchdoctors.”
“We know for a fact that both herbalists and witchdoctors exists to help people in a traditional way to solve traditional related problems and not to harm anyone and for that reason, we have therefore resolved that the herbalists and witchdoctors should be ambassadors and in the forefront to provide protection to people with albinism by reporting anyone who approaches them on issues to do with people with albinism.”
The police officer in-charge who is responsible for all security in the district called upon herbalists (and witchdoctors) in the district to be more organised and get licenses so that people could easily identify and report anyone falsely pretending to be a traditional healer.
President for Northern Region Traditional Healers, Edward Kayange said: “As herbalists, we are ready to work with the police in order to completely eradicate violence and discrimination against people with albinism.
“We will make sure that all traditional healers have certificates from one body to avoid confusion amongst ourselves. We will form committees which will be working hand in hand with the police and chiefs to report anyone involved in the malpractice,” he pointed out.
Chairperson for Chitipa District Association of People with Albinism, Mabvuto Lwinga said it was a step in the right direction for herbalists and witchdoctors alike to be working with the police.
“This is a good development. I am very optimistic that this would help to provide more protection to people with albinism,” said Lwinga.
The law in Malawi, however, does not recognise witchcraft although traditional healers and witchdoctors are allowed to practice their trade
People with albinism are born with lighter than normal skin, hair and eye colour, making them sensitive to the sun and bright light and in some communities, especially among the African people they are attacked or even killed for their body parts which is erroneously believed to posses magical powers.
Since 2014 more than 200 cases of killings, attacks and other human rights violations against persons with albinism have been reported in the Southern African landlocked nation.
According to United Nations (UN) human rights experts despite various moves to support people with albinism, the continued attacks demonstrate that the Government needs to redouble its efforts to end the ongoing atrocities.
UN’s Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero said: “We call on the Government of Malawi 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.”
Ero is on record having said that some witchcraft practices result in “serious human violations” such as torture, murder, discrimination and exclusion, including banishment from communities.
Maria Jose Torres, UN Resident Coordinator in Malawi says that the UN remains concerned about continued attacks against persons with albinism.
“We call on the government of Malawi to engage an extra gear in the fight against attacks on persons with albinism. We need to do more to ensure that this comes to a complete end.
Habiba Osman, Executive Secretary for Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) said in an interview with Nyasa Times that the ongoing attacks on persons with albinism is a chilling reminder that Malawi as a country needs to do more to protect people with albinism because they are not safe.
“These attacks on persons with albinism is largely fuelled by a culture of impunity. The government must tighten the noose on anyone suspected to have committed this heinous crime. Persons with albinism like anyone else are protected by the law,” said Osman.
Before being elected president, Malawi leader, Dr. Lazarus Chakwera rode on a wave that if elected, he would make sure that attacks on people with albinism will be put to an end.
“When I become president, anyone found killing, abducting or discriminating against any person with albinism will be dealt severely and face the long arm of the law.”
A recent Amnesty International (AI) report observes that the rate at which cases are concluded in Malawi is slow compared to other crime investigations.
There are approximately about 10,000 persons with albinism in Malawi.
Unfortunately, the below article contains a too familiar story. Attacks on persons with albinism, mutilation, murder, involvement of high-placed politicians, cover up practices. The President of the Associations of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), Ian Simbota, again turned his attention to the country’s rulers and requested the government of President Lazarus Chakwera to speed up all abduction and murder cases which targeted people with albinism (PWA) for ritualistic purposes, often involving high-profile politicians.
It is shocking to read the following article. I won’t repeat here what follows. Once more, however, I want to draw attention to these heinous crimes which threaten people with albinisme on a daily basis. Ritual murders must end. Politicians and other culprits who are involved must be apprehended, put on trial and sentenced. Simultaneously, a national awareness campaign must start, emphasizing the sanctity of life, the need to protect innocent people, the promotion of human rights notably to right to live and the right to live without fear. The government must take its responsibility and act accordingly – or resign. (webmaster FVDK).
APAM asks Tonse Alliance Govt. to speed upon ‘albino’ cases
Published: April 29, 2021 By: Nyasa Times – Tiwonge Kumwenda
The Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) fears that this will increase the already fragile position of people living with albinism in Malawi. History teaches us that attacks on people with albinism increase during election campaigns. The Malawian government fails to react properly. Since 2014, 171 attacks against people with albinism were carried out of which 25 persons were killed and 13 were reported missing. Hence, the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi has launched an anti-killings campaign. (webmaster FVDK).
Malawi persons with albinism launch anti-killings campaign
The Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) has launched a campaign to condemn killings of people with albinism for rituals ahead of the fresh presidential polls in the country.
APAM President Ian Simbota, told local media Sunday after the launch that members of the Association fear for their lives as some study showed that persons with albinism are targeted for rituals during elections. Simbota told Xinhua Monday that as of March 23rd, 2020, APAM had recorded 171 cases of attacks against people with albinism of which 25 persons were killed and 13 were reported missing since 2014. (italics added by the webmaster FVDK)
“We received the February 3 judgement with mixed reactions because on one hand we were happy that we will be given back our ballot power but on the other hand looked at the threatening times that we always go through because of the same election exercise,” said Simbota.He said during the campaign the APAM members want to sensitize mostly political leaders to desist from beliefs that killing a person with albinism and getting their body parts for rituals can make them win an election.
“Those things don’t exist, it’s just some evil way of thinking. We are the voters and politicians should use us as such and not as rituals; it does not work,” said Simbota.”We are a population of 134,636 people and those are the votes that we are worth,” he added. In 2015 UN Human Rights Expert on Albinism Ikponwosa Ero, linked the killings of persons with albinism in Africa to elections, saying many political hopefuls believe that body parts of persons with albinism can be used as charms for one to win an election. (bold added by the webmaster FVDK)
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that leads to a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light.
Persons with albinism in Ghana are dying at an alarming rate as a result of climatic change and harsh weather conditions.
The association of Persons with Albinism (PWAs) in Ghana has lamented the harsh weather condition. It said although global warming is a worldwide headache, its members are the hardest hit by its effects.
This is because persons with albinism have peculiar skin condition.
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that leads to a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light.
The condition is characterized by lack of melanin pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes.
Global warming records
According to co2.earth, the temperature across the global land and ocean surfaces in the year 2018 was 0.86°C (1.55°F).
That is above the 20th-century average and places October temperature as the second highest since global records began in 1880.
Director of the association of Persons with Albinism in Ghana, Newton Katseku told Africafeeds.com that the current era of global warming is a very unbearable time for his members.
He explained that due to the absence of melanin in their skins, they suffer skin cancers as a result of direct exposure to the ultraviolet rays.The association is, therefore, calling on the public to engage in tree planting and other environmental health support programmes to remedy global warming.
Newton Katseku has also called on the government of Ghana to commit resources to Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDGs 13) which enjoins all nations across the world to adopt environmentally friendly policies to help salvage the increasing rise in global temperature.
He believes fulfilling the goal will bring relief to persons living with albinism as they will have a congenial ecosystem to survive and also contribute their quota to the well-being of the society.
Anti-albino cultural practices
According to recent statistics, as of 2009, between one in 17,000 and one in 20,000 people were albinos globally.
But in parts of Africa including Ghana persons with albinism also suffer various forms of discrimination.
In certain parts of Africa including Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa among others, albinos are killed for ritual purposes. The belief is that, using their body parts for ritual sacrifices engender success in businesses and other endeavours. (italics added by the webmaster FVDK)
In some communities in Ghana, they are not welcomed and supported.
There are ongoing public engagements with traditional rulers of some communities to amend their cultural practices that are inimical such persons.
Newton Katseku told Africa Feeds that his outfit intends to expand the engagements to other parts of the nation.
“This is as a result of our finding that certain communities in Ghana do not tolerate persons with albinism, neither do they allow them to live in the communities.
These communities are not welcoming to persons with albinism because of their cultural practices and beliefs. So, we have thought it wise to dialogue with the traditional leaders of the communities to fashion out how to amend some of their cultural practices and beliefs,” Katseku said.
The initiative is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, a West African organization that promotes democratic values.
This posting is NOT about ritual killings of people with albinism in Sierra Leone. It contains a public lecture by Rashid Dumbuya on the occasion of Albinism Awareness Day celebrations in this West Africa Country. However, also in Sierra Leone people with albinism face discrimination and barriers that limit their full participation in society on an equal basis with others.
In Sierra Leone, people with albinism are considered people with disabilities. Rashid Dumbuya concludes his public lecture with a number of recommendations to improve the position of people with albinism in Sierra Leone. (webmaster FVDK)
Published: June 19, 2019 By: The Patriotic Vanguard (Sierra Leone)
Albinism Awareness Day Celebrations in Sierra Leone
Public lecture by Rashid Dumbuya Esq
Them: Still standing strong; realizing the rights of Persons with Albinism in Sierra Leone.
Due to the immense challenges that were being faced by persons with albinism coupled with the increased momentum and outcry for their protection across the world, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in 2013 (A/HRC/RES/23/13) calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism around the world.
Consequently, on the 18th December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly heeded to the call and adopted Resolution 69/170 proclaiming 13th June as International Albinism Awareness Day.
Following this Resolution, the UN Human Rights Council on the 26 of March 2015 in resolution 28/6 established the mandate of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
The work of the Independent Expert among many other things as provided in its mandate is to engage in dialogue and consult with States and other relevant stakeholders; to identify, exchange and promote good practices relating to the realization of the rights of persons with albinism and their participation as equal members of society; to promote and report on developments, challenges and obstacles relating to the realization of the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism and to make recommendations in that regard to the Human Rights Council.
On 3 July 2015, the Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Ero of Nigeria as the first mandate holder and Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
She assumed her duties on 1st August 2015 and in January 2016, she submitted her first report on Albinism to the UN Human Rights Council.
STILL STANDING STRONG has been chosen as the international theme for this year’s International Albinism Awareness Day Celebrations.
The theme is a call to recognize, celebrate and stand in solidarity with persons with Albinism around the world, to support their cause, their accomplishments as well as their challenges and to promote and protect their fundamental human rights.
LEGAL LINK is therefore proud to have associated and collaborated with the Sierra Leone Association of Persons with Albinism in commemorating this historic and symbolic day here today in Sierra Leone.
But why does the UN mark international days like this?
International days have been embraced by the UN because it affords an occasion to educate the world on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems; and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.
They also serve as powerful advocacy tool to draw attention and make strong case for reforms.
What is Albinism?
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that affects people worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender.
It results from a significant deficit in the production of melanin and is characterized by the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. In order for a person to be affected by albinism, both parents must carry the gene and, in that case, there is a 25per cent chance that a child will be born with albinism at each pregnancy.
What are the prevailing statistics on Albinism across the world?
The proportion of persons affected by albinism in the world differs from region to region.
In North America and Europe, it is estimated that 1 in 17,000 to 20,000 people are affected by the condition, while in sub-Saharan Africa,1 in 5,000 to 15,000 could be affected, with specific countries having a much higher tendency, including estimated rates of 1 in 1,400, and about 1 in 20 persons in the general population carrying the gene for albinism.
Other studies suggest that in specific groups in Panama or in the Pacific region, the rate of people affected could be as high as 1 in 70 to 1 in 125.13.
However, in Sierra Leone, a report done by OSIWA in 2018 puts the statistics at a little over 500 people affected by albinism.
What are the different types of albinism?
Albinism is of different types. The most common and visible type is oculocutaneous albinism (OCA), which affects the skin, the hair and the eyes.
Within this type, there are subtypes, which reflect varying degrees of melanin pigment deficiency in an individual.
The main subtypes of OCA are tyrosinase negative albinism (OCA1) and tyrosinase positive albinism (OCA2).
In OCA1, there is little or no production of melanin and it is often characterized by white hair and opaque or transparent irises.
In OCA2, which is more prevalent particularly in African countries, some melanin is produced and it is characterized by yellow-blonde or sandy-coloured hair and grey to light brown irises.
A less common form of albinism is ocular albinism which affects the eyes alone, while albinism accompanied by Hermansky-Pudlak syndromeis is another less common form, which is characterized by bleeding disorders, bowel (colitis) and lung diseases.
*What are the legal frameworks protecting the rights of persons with albinism?*
At the International level:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
International Covenant on Civil and Political RightsUnited Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
All of the above international frameworks promotes equality and non-discrimination.
At the African regional level:
The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
The Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa
Resolution by the Pan African Parliament to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of attacks on persons with Albinism
At the domestic level:
The 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone – (talks about protection from discrimination)
The Sierra Leone Disability Act of 2011.- (classify them generally as PWD’s)
The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone -(promote and protect their rights)
Sierra Leone Association for persons with Albinism- (umbrella body in SL)
Challenges and areas of concern
Persons with albinism face discrimination and barriers that restrict their participation in society on an equal basis with others every day.
Due to those many challenges, persons with albinism throughout the world are unable to enjoy the full range of human rights and the same standards of equality, rights and dignity as others.
While some of those challenges are global, others have predominantly been identified in certain regions.
In the Independent Expert’s report of 2016, some of the challenges identified include human rights violations such as attacks, desecration of graves, trafficking of body parts, displacement, discrimination against persons with albinism, as well as human rights violations based on disabilities, deprivation of the right to the highest attainable standard of health and the right to education.
1. Witchcraft and related offences
It has been widely reported and documented that persons with albinism are hunted and physically attacked due to prevailing myths such as the misbelief that their body parts, when used in witchcraft rituals and potions or amulets, will induce wealth, good luck and political success.
Other dangerous myths that facilitate the perpetration of attacks are those linked to perceptions of their appearance, including misbeliefs and myths that persons with albinism are not human beings, but ghosts, that they are subhuman and that they do not die, but disappear.
An increase of those attacks, referred to as “ritual attacks”, has been reported by to have been high in Africa especially during periods of political elections.
2. Brutal and deadly nature of the Attacks on PWA’s
In Africa, it is reported that, attacks directed at persons with albinism are usually carried out with machetes, resulting in severe mutilation or death.
In most cases, the persons attacked are dismembered; body parts such as fingers, arms, legs, eyes, genitals, skin, bones, the head and hair have been severed from the body and taken. In several of those cases, body parts have been hacked off while the person was alive.
Reportedly, there is a corollary witchcraft belief that it is preferable to harvest body parts from live victims because screams increase the potency of the potion for which the parts are used.
Since 2007, civil society organizations have reported hundreds of attacks against persons with albinism in 25 countries.
All of those physical attacks appear to be, at least in part, related to the erroneous beliefs and myths linked to witchcraft practices.
3. Lucrative Trade and markets for the body parts of persons with albinism.*
It has been reported that there is a market for body parts of persons with albinism. The body parts are reportedly sold both locally and across borders.
The prices of body parts reportedly range from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a “complete set” or a corpse. Civil society reports indicate that, motivated by those prices, family members and communities have sold, or attempted to sell, persons with albinism, thereby fuelling the supply side of this macabre trade.
Recent cases of body-parts trafficking that were brought to the attention of the Independent Expert by civil society include cases where law enforcement agencies acted promptly and were able to prevent the sale and save the persons with albinism involved.
In a few other cases, however, the body parts were harvested and have still not been recovered.
4. Forced migration
Attacks against persons with albinism in some areas have caused hundreds of persons, particularly women and children, to flee their homes and seek refuge in temporary shelters.
Most of these shelters were neither designed nor prepared for an influx of persons with albinism, and are also not equipped to address the special needs of persons with albinism. Reports show that inhabitants with albinism are exposed to early skin cancer risk and various forms of abuse.
5. Discrimination and stigmatization
One of the main barriers to the implementation of the human rights of persons with albinism is discrimination and stigmatization, both of which are historically and culturally entrenched. Information on discrimination against persons with albinism is a common reality around the world. However, the expression and severity of the discrimination faced by persons with albinism vary from region to region.
In sub Saharan Africa in particular, bullying of school-age children owing to their appearance is on the increase.
Also, discrimination takes more extreme forms, including infanticide, physical threats and attacks.
Lack of information on the condition facilitates the spread of myths to explain albinism, most of which are erroneous and in some cases dangerous, including myths that people with albinism are ghosts or the result of conception during menstruation or the result of a general curse.
Challenges faced by persons with albinism in Sierra Leone
Though not severe and deadly like those encountered in East and Southern parts of Africa, Persons with Albinism (PWA) in Sierra Leone also face huge challenges in the realization of their rights.
Firstly, they have been largely excluded and sometimes forgotten by government, civil society, donors and development partners in the democratic and governance agenda of the country. Issues affecting them have generally gone unnoticed and has resulted to deep engraved stigma, exclusion, discrimination and sometimes violence against them.
Furthermore, they have little or no voice compared to other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, children and women.
Also, there is little activism on the part of civil society as well people living with the condition to advocate for the promotion and protection of their rights and wellbeing which may be a consequence of lack of knowledge and understanding and/or interest.
Other challenges include access to justice, education, health, employment and even political representation in the democratic governance architecture of the country.
More negative still, the lack of effective, functional and genuine bodies, organizations or CSO’s in Sierra Leone to help advocate on the rights of PWA’s has also left them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous persons and organizations.
Finally, the challenges encountered by Persons with Albinism in Sierra Leone could be best summarized in the words of the Founder and Executive Director of Sierra Leone Association for Persons with Albinism, Mohamed Osman Kamara aka Jay Marvel, as posted on their Facebook page.
*‘’We Demand Action to be taken Now! We Crying Since Yesterday Night…… About the Demise Of Mahid Jalloh, Who Was Also Admitted At Connaught For Skin Cancer With The Late Ruth. He Was Transfered To The Shepherd Hospital At Tombo. There He Passed Away On The 23rd At Around 12:00pm. We Are Calling On the Sierra Leone Government, And All Organizations Around the World… Skin Cancer Is Killing Us. These Are Just The Two ( 2) Known Cases.. Who Knows How Many Persons With Albinism Are Dying From Skin Cancer In The Country? , Because We Lack Proper Health Care. This is a Serious National Issue. Every Citizen Should Be Concerned and Try in His or Her Own Way.!!! Ministry Of Health, National Commission For Persons With Disability, Ministry Of Social Welfare Children and Gender Affairs etc YOU SHOULD TAKE THE LEAD IN THIS CASE! Rest In Peace Our Beloved Brother! We Love You Both and Pray the Government Puts An End To Skin Cancer Affecting Persons With Albinism In Sierra Leone.!’’*
From the above points raised, it stands to reason that human right abuses and violations of the rights of persons with albinism is still commonplace in Sierra Leone.
*LEGAL LINK* therefore joins the Sierra Leone Association for Persons with Albinism in calling on the government of Sierra Leone to adopt and implement the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa as well as the newly adopted resolution by the Pan African Parliament to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of attacks on persons with albinism and further ensure effective education and awareness training on the human rights of people with albinism. Also, we call on the government and Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone to pass a specific law that will adequately protect the rights of albinism in the country.
Furthermore, we call on the government to ensure that victims and members of their families have access to appropriate remedies.
More significantly, we call on the government, the human rights commission, the National Commission for persons with disabilities and other civil societies organizations with human rights mandate to increase education and public awareness-raising activities on the rights of persons with albinism so as to deconstruct stereotypes and existing myths.
We further call on government to ensure that PWA’s are not discriminated in schools and are provided with scholarship support to pursue their education to the highest of levels. Free healthcare for PWA’s must also be guaranteed so as to help address the problem of skin cancer.
The Government of Sierra Leone should also ensure that PWA’s are included in the three arms of government as well as the public service and other sectors crucial for the running of the affairs of the state. This will help to de- mystify myths and erroneous beliefs about PWA’s not being human.
Finally, inclusion of information on the situation of persons with albinism in reports submitted by the Government of Sierra Leone to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights under article 62 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and also to the UN Human Rights Council under the UPR, is good practice in the protecting and promoting of the rights of persons with albinism.
Persons with Albinism have faced and continue to face, ongoing hurdles and challenges that seriously undermine their enjoyment of fundamental human rights in Sierra Leone and the world at large. From stigma and discrimination, to barriers of access to health and education as well as marginalization from socio-political and democratic institutions in the country.
In addition, PWA’s have also become subjects of attacks for ritual killings and political power in many parts of Africa.
But despite all of these challenges, PWA’S have remained undaunted and are STILL STNDING STRONG! WE CAN DO BETTER FOR THEM BY ACCEPTING THEM AS HUMAN BEINGS THAT DESERVES TO LIVE, ENJOY EQUAL RIGHTS, DIGNITY AND RESPECT WITH US!
Rashid Dumbuya ESQ
Executive Director – LEGAL LEGAL LINK
Christian Lawyers Centre (a.k.a LEGAL LINK) is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Sierra Leone as a non-profit legal advocacy group comprising of lawyers, law students and human right activists that seeks to provide legal assistance to religious communities and vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone through legal advocacy, public interest litigations, state and private sector accountability, enforcement of the rule of law and respect for domestic and international laws that guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms.