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Malawi’s leaders must end violence, killings against people with albinism

“People tell me in my face that they will sell me. One time someone said I was worth K6 million (about $10,000). I felt pained by the remarks that a price tag can be put on me.”

That’s the chilling testimony of a 37-year-old Malawian man with albinism, Ishmael Rashid, in his interview with Amnesty International. He relayed his painful story to our researchers during our fact finding mission on the ongoing attacks against people with albinism in the country.

Rashid reveals how he lives in constant fear in his own country because people who look like him are believed to have bones that have “gold” and can bring a fortune.

Unfortunately, Rashid’s story is not isolated. His testament is the reality that many people with albinism are living in Malawi every day and as a result they are now afraid to freely move around, let alone living in their own communities.

His revelations and those of many others with albinism in the country, who spoke to us, are contained in Amnesty International’s new report, “We Are Not Animals to be Hunted or Sold: Violence and Discrimination Against People with Albinism in Malawi,” released on Tuesday.

The report shockingly reveals that at least 18 people with albinism have been killed since November 2014, while five others have been abducted and cannot be traced.

Of the 18 people killed, four of the murders were in April alone. One of the four killings in April is the case of a 17-year-old boy, Davis Fletcher Machinjiri.

David left his home in Dedza district on 24 April 2016 to watch a soccer match with a friend and never returned. He was abducted by about four men who trafficked him to Mozambique and killed him. They chopped off both his arms and legs and removed the bones. They then buried the rest of his body in a shallow grave. His remains were found in Mozambique on 1 May.

These continued killings and violence against this vulnerable group have left unspeakable trauma and fear to this minority group in the country.

The persistent attacks against this population group have exposed systematic weaknesses in Malawi’s security system, of the failure of the police, charged with ensuring the safety of all Malawians, to protect this minority group. They are now living in fear and hopeless.

The great aunt of one of the missing two-year-old, Iblah Pilo, has told our researchers about the frustration of living without knowing where her grandson is after he was abducted in January 2015.

“We are worried that we do not know where Iblah is or where to find his grave. We want the truth to come out. This child must be the last to go missing.” She said. His mother woke up to the cry of the child but could not save him the day he was abducted.

In some instances, parents with school going children with albinism have had to withdraw them from school because they are discriminated against by the system that doesn’t pay closer attention to the needs of children with albinism, like ensuring that they have reading glasses.

These are some of the stories of people living with albinism in the country and it shows that the issue needs urgent attention.

The time has come for the authorities to show bold and decisive leadership to end this problem. Resources must be invested to guarantee the security for all, including people with albinism.

The solution to the problem begins with political authorities in the country acknowledging its existence. So far, the reaction by the government has been knee jerk. Police are poorly resourced and they lack the skill needed to investigate crimes against people with albinism to ensure successful arrests and prosecutions.

Police have also failed to maintain visible policing in areas where most of these crimes have taken place.

The government must adopt specific measures to protect the rights to life and security of people with albinism by providing increased levels of visible policing in rural districts and taking action when attacks against this minority group occur.

They must also revisit all reports of crimes against people with albinism, especially cases of people found with human bones.

People with albinism must be guaranteed their right to life and security in as enshrined in the country’s constitution.

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