United Nations human rights expert Ikponwosa Ero called upon government representatives gathered in New York for the General Assembly to take swift action to end a growing problem of violence and severe discrimination against people with albinism.
Ms. Ero is the first Independent Expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on the situation of those worldwide who have albinism. She urged Governments to address root causes and said: “Given their relative size, cost cannot be an excuse in addressing the dire straits faced by persons with albinism.”
Her latest report, reviewed today in the Assembly’s main body dealing with human rights issues (Third Committee), identifies root causes of attacks and discrimination against people with albinism and points to concrete legal steps in order to improve the situation. For example, she encourages regulating the practice of witchcraft in all forms, creating long-term and sustained awareness raising campaigns, and policies that support mothers of children with albinism.
“Root causes of attacks are found in traditional and culturally entrenched misbeliefs and misconceptions about albinism such as the myth that persons with albinism are ghosts, that they do not die but they disappear,” she said. “This contributes to minimizing the social impact of attacks and justifies alleged disappearances.”
One of the most concerning impacts of beliefs such as these is that families and communities abandon children with albinism, and sometimes their mothers as well.
Ms. Ero encourages regulating witchcraft practices that are at the root of such discrimination. For example, it is believed by some “that drinking the blood of persons with albinism gives extra magical power; that the bones of persons with albinism can help discover gold in mines; that their hands are burned to ashes and mixed in a paste to cure strokes; and that the blood of persons with albinism is used to boost vitality and intellectual capacity.”
Poverty can also incentivize attacks on members of the population with albinism. Witchcraft practices such as those she identified have given rise to a black market that values their body parts; thus, the potential to make money has led to a strong incentive for attacks.
“Aside from myths, witchcraft practice and poverty, there are also aggravating factors, including the visibility of persons with albinism, particularly in regions where they stand out given their pigmentation, the characterization of persons with albinism in films and literature that perpetuate misconceptions, impunity and weak judicial response to attacks,” the human rights expert added.