The top United Nations human rights official today said she was appalled by reports of increased attacks against people with albinism in Tanzania, and called on the authorities there to take stronger measures to halt the crimes and to educate people against stereotypes, including the belief that body parts from albinos have magical qualities.
“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks, which were committed in particularly horrifying circumstances, and which have involved dismembering people, including children, while they are still alive,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a press release.
Since late January, four attacks were reported – three involving children, one as young as seven months old.
Authorities are investigating three of the cases, but according to the news release, successful prosecutions are rare. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented in Tanzania since 2000, only five cases were prosecuted.
“I urge the Tanzanian authorities to strengthen their legal response to such crimes and increase their efforts to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice,” Ms. Pillay said, adding that the Government has the primary responsibility to protect people with albinism.
According to the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR), the killing and mutilation of people with albinism is often linked to witchcraft. Some practitioners allegedly also believe that the witchcraft is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, which explains why the body parts are often cut from live victims.
“These crimes are abhorrent. People with albinism have the right to start living, like anyone else, without fear of being killed or dismembered,” Ms. Pillay noted.
She also urged the Government to guarantee the victims' right to redress, and to provide them with medical and psychosocial treatment, as well as legal support.
“I am deeply alarmed by the general discrimination and social exclusion many people with albinism suffer, as a result of their skin colour, not just in Tanzania but in other countries as well,” Ms. Pillay said, noting that families of children with albinism frequently neglect their education.
Those who do attend school often suffer from severe bullying, and many are forced to drop out of school and live in poverty.