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Reflecting on International Albinism Awareness Day

By Members of the Diplomatic Corps:

Since it was launched by the United Nations (UN) in 2014, International Albinism Awareness Day has developed into an important event in the human rights calendar.

First, it is a day on which we— ambassadors in Malawi from the European Union, Ireland, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom— educate ourselves and reflect on the challenges faced by those living with albinism around the world and in Africa in particular.

This is a day which starts from a positive message, as we recognise and celebrate the champions of Albinism Awareness – those dedicated activists who stand for the rights of persons living with albinism around the world, but also those persons living with albinism who have overcome the challenges in their lives to become leaders and role models in their communities and in their countries.

The proclamation of this international day, as well as the appointment of the first ever UN Independent Expert in 2015, are both significant steps towards raising awareness and putting an end to the discrimination, stigmatisation and violence against persons living with albinism around the world.

Alarmingly, there is no escaping the fact that recent years have brought a worrying increase in human rights abuses against persons living with albinism across sub-Saharan Africa.

The number of reported crimes against persons living with albinism in Malawi alone has reached 163, including 22 murders since November 2014, according to official figures. And, of course, beyond these figures, we cannot say how many other cases went unreported and therefore left in impunity.

The character of these crimes is extremely disturbing, involving, as it does, violent attacks, abductions, human trafficking and killings – all based on the mystification of albinism and the false belief that their [people with albinism’s] body parts can bestow magical powers. Children are not spared either.

Dealing with this tragedy requires teamwork and commitment from across government and society.

It means educating our children away from false and dangerous beliefs. It means physically protecting persons living with albinism in every community – and at the same time protecting their access to key services such as education and healthcare.

It means investigating and prosecuting those responsible for attacks. And last, but certainly not least, it means enthusiastically promoting the full participation of persons living with albinism within society – allowing them to fulfil their true potential whether in politics, business, culture or any other field.

We are very pleased that the European Union and our European countries have been at the forefront of supporting the human rights situation of persons living with albinism in collaboration with the Government of Malawi, as well as other countries in the region, and we are committed to intensifying this work.

We have worked internationally with organisations, such as the Regional Albinism Forum, a non-governmental organisation, aimed at strengthening organisations of persons living with albinism across Africa.

The situation of persons living with albinism has also been raised on repeated occasions in the European Parliament. This is a good start but there is a lot more work ahead.

The Government of Malawi has provided an excellent framework for us to work together, by adopting a National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism for the period 2018-22. This provides a comprehensive strategy to eradicate discriminatory practices and to ensure that persons living with albinism have adequate access to healthcare, social services, employment and education.

We now urge the Government of Malawi to fast-track the implementation of this plan, where persons living with albinism should play a central role, and we offer our support to them.

In recent years, we have been supporting initiatives to contribute to most of the priorities of the National Action Plan. These have involved, among others, raising awareness on the rights of persons living with albinism and advocating for community protection, supporting police investigations and judicial prosecutions of cases of violence, working with the Malawi Human Rights Commission to conduct public inquiries and assessments of the human rights violations, supporting civil society organisations and associations of persons living with albinism to increase their participation [levels] in public affairs and in any sector of society.

This is a day to renew our commitments to work harder, but also a day for celebration of those activists who stand for the rights of persons living with albinism around the world. And who is better to exemplify the positive and the creative than Malawi’s own singer Lazarus, an artist who gives a voice to those who are usually silenced.

Lazarus produced an album and a documentary which was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, the United States, this year and is a true role model for all persons living with albinism in Malawi and a real example that your dreams can come true. He is an inspiration to all of us.

Authors:

H.E. Sandra Paesen, EU Ambassador

H.E. Jürgen Bosch, Germany Ambassador

H.E. Gerry Cunningham, Irish Ambassador

H.E. Steinar Egil Hagen, Norwegian Ambassador

H.E. Gary Leslie, Charge d’affaires of the United Kingdom

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