A new report by Amnesty International (AI) has revealed that a surge in killings of people with albinism, whose body parts are used in rituals, is a result of systematic failure of policing in Malawi.
According to the report titled: “We are not animals to be hunted or sold: Violence and discrimination against people with albinism in Malawi”, the wave of violent attacks against people with albinism have increased sharply over the last two years, with four people, including a baby, murdered in April 2016 alone.
Since November 2014, at least 18 people have been killed and at least five have been abducted and remain missing, a situation which AI says has left the vulnerable group living in fear.
“The unprecedented wave of brutal attacks against people with albinism has created a climate of terror for this vulnerable group and their families who are living in a state of constant fear for their lives,” said Amnesty’s Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena at a news conference in Malawi capital, at the launch of the report on Tuesday.
He added: “Malawian authorities have dismally failed them, leaving this population group at the mercy of criminal gangs who hunt them down for their body parts.”
While official figures show that 18 albinos have been killed so far, AI believes the actual number of those killed is much higher as some killings in rural areas were not reported.
Currently, there is no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.
According to AI research, the killings continue because of the superstition that the bones of people with albinism have gold and potent magical powers.
“Their bones are believed to be sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck. The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that bones of people with albinism contain gold,” reads AI report in part.
Besides the current wave of extreme forms of violence, the report also finds that people with albinism in Malawi are facing widespread societal discrimination including verbal abuse and exclusion from accessing basic public services.
The albinos whose population in Malawi is estimated around 10,000 are also reportedly discriminated against in the education system and many die from skin cancer because of lack of access to preventative resources such as sunscreen.
The superstitious Malawians are not only pursuing those living with the condition as the albino hunters have taken their hunt to graveyards.
The Police have so far recorded at least 39 cases of illegal exhumation of the bodies of people with albinism or of people in possession of bones taken from corpses.
Amnesty International opines that some of them may in fact be cases of actual killings rather than mere grave tampering and robberies.
Association of People with Albinism in Malawi director Boniface Massah has said many members of the community are living in great fear.
“I am the face of the crusade against the killings in Malawi. I greatly fear for my life as I might be the target of the killers. Time is ripe the world understood of our hardships as persecuted members of society,” he said.
One 37 year-old man told Amnesty International: “People tell me in my face that they will sell me. One time someone said I was worth 6 million Malawi Kwacha (US$10,000). I felt pained by the remarks that a price tag can be put on me.”
Women with albinism suffer the most humiliation as they are touted as machilitso (cure), a description that fuel the belief that having sex with a person with albinism can cure HIV.
While the Malawi Police Service has disclosed that at least 69 crimes against people with albinism have been documented since November 2014, the global human rights body has said the police lack adequate training and skills needed to investigate such crimes.
“The Malawi Police Service lacks resources, such as transport, to respond in a timely way to reported crimes and maintain visible policing in districts reporting high numbers of attacks.”
The report adds: “In addition, there are fears that some police officers carry the same prejudices against people with albinism that exists within the wider Malawian society and fail to take human rights abuses against people with albinism seriously.”
AI has urged the Malawi to stop burying its head in the sand and pretend that this problem will just vanish.
“All reports of crimes against people with albinism should be revisited, and thoroughly, impartially, independently and transparently investigated and suspected perpetrators brought to justice, in particular cases of people found with human bones.
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