EXCLUSIVE: Albinos pay the price as political ambitions get ugly
by MTHULISI SIBANDA (Editor)
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE violation of the rights of people with albinism has taken a cruel dimension as some countries in the continent prepare for crucial elections.
A spike in such attacks in recent weeks, attributed to the age-old myth albinos’ body parts are a source of good luck, have been blamed on political hopefuls as polls approach.
Amid the spate of such attacks, the United Nations (UN) human rights expert, Ikponwosa Ero, has issued an urgent appeal for coordinated action to tackle the upsurge in attacks in Southern and Eastern Africa, where the infringements are said to be rife.
“An apparent increase in demand for body parts of persons with albinism has been reported in the run up to elections in several African countries,” said Ero, who noted attacks in six countries since she assumed her position in August.
Among the African countries that have been accused of killing albinos include Tanzania, Central Africa Republic, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Burundi, Nigeria and Uganda.
The six African countries that are vying for elections between this year (2015) and next year (2016) comprise Tanzania (weekend), Central African Republic, Rwanda (2016), South Africa (2016) and Zambia while Burundi
concluded their controversial elections in September.
She pointed out that people with albinism were amongst the most vulnerable persons in both Southern and Eastern African regions.
“After centuries of chronic neglect of their plight, they have been relegated to the fringes of society where stigma and discrimination in every aspect of their lives have been normalized.
“Today, their woe has been compounded by a constant fear of attacks by people –including family members – who value their body parts more than their life. I am deeply concerned at the highly disturbing pattern of
increase in attacks when elections occur in the region.”
Ero called on affected governments to carry out, as a matter of urgency specific measures particularly through regional and international collaboration to bring an end to such crimes she denounced as “abhorrent,”.
“All political parties must ensure that their candidates and supporters are not associated directly or indirectly with such grave human rights violations,” she said.
Among the countries where such incidents have been reported include Tanzania, which holds general elections on Sunday.
Central African Republic, Zambia and South Africa are among African countries that will hold elections in the coming months.
In Tanzania, albinos represent one in every 1 429 births, a much higher rate than in any other nation. Albinos are especially persecuted in some communities where witch doctors have promoted a belief in the potential
magical and superstitious properties of albinos’ body parts.
Some politicians have been accused of buying body parts of albinos for witchcraft and purported lucky charms.
Rights groups have reported a rise in attacks against albinos in the East African country ahead of the civic, parliamentary and presidential elections.
President Jakaya Kikwete earlier bemoaned the attacks against people with albinism as “disgusting and a big embarrassment for the nation”.
Prominent activist, Salif Keita, an award-winning global music icon who is himself an albino, also spoke out against the trend.
“It is completely unacceptable for humans to sacrifice other human beings, it comes from ignorance,” he said at a conference in Kenya.
Such incidents include the case of a 56-year-old Kenyan man with albinism from Kenya who was attacked with some of his body parts hacked off.
He later succumbed to his injuries.
Civic elections are due in Kenya in two years but there have been reports of political hopefuls perpetrating the hunt for body parts of albinos.
While it remains open for debate whether a spike in attacks against such members of society can be linked to impending elections, a fact is that since time immemorial albinos have been murdered for muthi purposes.
South Africa, which boasts what is widely regarded as the most progressive Constitution in the world, is not exempt from such.
In August, the remains of the dismembered body of a 20-year-old woman with albinism were found in a shallow grave in her village of Phelandaba, KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Most of her body parts as well as her skin were missing.
Expert welcomed the prompt reaction of the South African authorities that led to a 20-year conviction for two of the perpetrators involved.
“It is an inhuman and cruel trend. It is plain stupid and crazy that people believe a person with albinism’s body parts can cure certain diseases or bring good luck.
“They are human beings like the rest of us and should be treated with love and respect,” said Siyabonga Tino, an activist with the Stop the Albino Killings, the South African organisation.
Albinism is a congenital condition which affects about one in 17 000 to 20 000 in Europe and North America.
According to the World Health Organization, it is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimate of one in every 5 000 to 15 000.
In several ethnic groups in the region, estimates are as high as one in 1 000 to 1 500 persons.
The persecution of people with albinism may occur for different reasons. One is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers.
As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered while graves of albinos dug up and desecrated.
At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck.
The main driving forces underlying these profiling crimes are ignorance, myth, and superstition.
“We need to educate our people about albinism. They need to know the facts about albinism.
“We have to get rid of myths like “people with albinism disappear after they die”; and those sangomas or nyangas who fuel these attacks should be locked up,” said Tino.
– CAJ News
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