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Sadc: listen to fears of albinos in Malawi

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In June, I met courage in the face of adversity in Malawi.

I had the privilege of leading a high-level advocacy delegation to conduct lobbying meeting with Malawi government officials. Ever since the launch of the Amnesty International report on the abductions and killings of people with albinism in 2016, we had observed significant measures taken by the Malawi government to reduce the attacks and discrimination.

However, in January 2017, a new wave of killings began with the murder of Madalitso Pensulo, who was 19 years old. In February, Mercy Banda was murdered in Lilongwe.

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The week before our arrival, a nine-year-old Malawian boy Isaac Mayeso was abducted in Mozambique when he travelled there to visit his grandparents. To date, his body has not been found.

Gilbert Daire: living in fear

I met Gilbert Daire at his home. Gilbert has albinism and works for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare. On March 9, a criminal gang went to his house. Gilbert and his wife heard unusual sounds in the early hours of the morning and thought it was coming from rats. The sound persisted and they realised that one of the windows in their house had been broken. His wife started shouting and ran out to alert the neighbours. Gilbert went to report the matter to the police and his neighbours searched around his home and in the nearby maize fields. One of the culprits was found at the back of Gilbert’s house. He pretended to be drunk and looking for his way home. He was taken to the police, where he confessed his attempted crime.

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Gilbert now lives in fear. He feels threatened and unsafe.

He says: “Malawi is not a good place for people with albinism to stay in. Nowadays, we have to limit our time of movement. By 4 o’clock or 5pm, I have to be home. I cannot travel early morning…I live under a curfew.”

No social protection or counselling for survivors

I also visited Mercy Banda’s mother. Mercy went missing on Thursday, February 23. Her mother came to know of her daughter’s death on Saturday, February 25 when the Criminal Investigations Department informed her of the murder of a person with albinism but they could not confirm the identity as family had not identified the body. A post-mortem did not identify that there were body parts missing. This was only discovered when the family was asked to identify the body.

Mercy’s mother is not sure if there will be any justice meted out to the criminals who murdered her daughter. What stood out for me was the failure by the police and the medical assistants in identifying missing body points and its ripple effect on the wheels of justice. I was also shocked at the clear absence of social protection mechanisms for families of survivors of attacks due to the criteria set out for social protection. It was puzzling to find out that a woman like Mercy’s mother has not benefited from any social protection programmes despite her advanced age, nor has she received any social counselling. Mercy’s young children are out of school and their grandmother looks after them through piecemeal jobs.

Inspector General of Police Lexten Kacahama acknowledged the police error on Mercy’s case. He believes people with albinism must be allowed to live a fear-free life and must feel free to associate with anyone.

Edna’s case: case of intimidation

Edna is the mother of twin boys, Harry and Harrison Mokoshoni. Harry was abducted and murdered in February 2016. One of the suspects was a chief in the area. Edna stays he was released sometime in March this year. He has further traumatised Edna by intimidating her and asking her to leave the area because he believes that Edna implicated him in Harry’s murder. This case is a clear indication that the criminal justice system has failed to protect victims.

Why Sadc must take an interest

It is estimated that since 2,000, at least 75 people with albinism have been killed in Tanzania. Twenty killings were recorded in Malawi between 2014 and 2017 and Amnesty International has also documented attacks in Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Zambia.

A regional solution to the multiple forms of discrimination people with albinism face is needed now more than ever. It is urgent when lives are at risk because of erroneous beliefs and myths, which are heavily influenced by and shrouded in superstition.

While the UN has passed a resolution on attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism, we are yet to see Southern African Development Community (Sadc) states taking steps to implement the calls, which include ensuring accountability through the conducting of impartial, speedy and effective investigations into attacks, bringing those responsible to justice, and ensuring that victims and family members have access to appropriate remedies. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights passed a resolution aimed at preventing attacks and discrimination, which not only calls for speedy and effective investigations but also invites State Parties to promote, in collaboration with relevant regional and international organisations, bilateral, regional and international initiatives aimed at protecting persons with albinism.

Over the next three years, many countries in Sadc will be going through elections and Sadc has to take the lead in making these declarations a reality. Sadc must lead in taking concrete and decisive action to protect the lives and rights of people with albinism.

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