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Call for action to stop attacks on people with albinism

Posted on: May 10, 2016 2:02 PM
Photo Credit: Marie Frechon / UN Photos

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] There has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks on people with albinism in Malawi – including murder and mutilation – leading to the Bishop of the Upper Shire to plead that the “barbaric behaviour” has to stop. “This makes me sick as we cannot comprehend the level of inhumanity and evil Malawians have become,” Bishop Brighton Vita Malasa said.

According to officials, 17 people with albinism have been abducted and killed in Malawi in the past two years; and the rate of attacks is increasing. “It is disheartening to learn of the rising incidences of abductions, killings and exhumations of the remains of people with albinism,” Malawian President Peter Mutharika told the country’s News24.

“Two months ago, we were talking of about 50 cases. Today, we have 66 cases recorded, for abductions, trespassing of graveyards, being found with human bones, suicide, assault of bodily harm, conduct likely to cause breach of peace, and killings of people with albinism.”

The UN World Health Organization say that the congenital condition, in which victims have little or no pigmentation in their skin, hair and eyes, is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting one in every 5,000 to 15,000 persons, compared to one in 17,000 to 20,000 in Europe and North America. The UN say that amongst some ethnic groups in the sub-Saharan region, the rate of sufferers is as high as one in 1,000 to 1,500 persons.

Sufferers of albinism – often referred to as Albinos, a term which many now find derogatory – are at risk from a variety of superstitious beliefs: some have been killed because their attackers fear that they are possessed by the devil; while others are attacked by people who want to own bones or body parts in the belief that they carry mystical powers.

“An apparent increase in demand for body parts of persons with albinism has been has been reported in the run up to elections in several African countries,” the UN’s human rights expert Ikponwosa Ero, the first UN independent expert for human rights of people with albinism, said. “Persons with albinism are amongst the most vulnerable persons in the region. After centuries of chronic neglect of their plight, they have been relegated to the fringes of society where stigma and discrimination in every aspect of their lives have been normalized.

“Today, their woe has been compounded by a constant fear of attacks by people – including family members – who value their body parts more than their life. I am deeply concerned at the highly disturbing pattern of increase in attacks when elections occur in the region.”

The Bishop of the Upper Shire, the Rt Revd Brighton Vita Malasa, has added his voice to a chorus of concern.

“We have read international news articles citing that in Malawi people living with albinism are fear of being extinguished,” Bishop Malasa said. “Surely one cannot let this barbaric behaviour continue – especially when one is made to understand that Malawi is a God fearing nation.

“We would like therefore want to condemn in its strongest term the killings of people living with albinism. At first we heard of the killings in Machinga, now we hear the killings have spread all over the country, with the recent one in Dedza, Dowa and Kasungu. Where is love for one another?

“These stories come whilst the stories of killing of the four elderly people in the district of Neno and those suspected of witchcraft in Nsanje are still fresh. Very recently we had stories of these killings of people in Zingwangwa, in the City of Blantyre, Machinga, Zomba, Mangochi. It is now definite that the killings are bordering on witchcraft, albinism, rituals, beliefs, superstitions and at time just mob justice.”

The bishop continued: “It is sad to note that life which was supposed to be preserved is being taken wantonly. . . God created human beings and said it was very good. In doing so, life was made holy and no-one was thus commanded to take someone’s life.

“Life is a precious gift. Life is Holy. Let people respect what God has ordained. The sanctity of life cannot be over overemphasised and cannot in anyway be compared with monitory gains.”

Bishop Malasa urged Malawians to treat allegations of witchcraft against people “with caution lest people harm innocent people.”

“It is wrong to think that elderly people are all witches and wizards. It is also not right to kill people just because they were born with albinism. No one chose to be born such. This generalisation and beliefs that the bones of the people with albinism are worth billions or millions of kwacha [money] is not right and only victimises innocent people.

“Please let us save people with albinism. They are human beings like anyone else.”

The bishop commended the Malawian government and police for taking action “to curb this satanic and barbaric behaviour of the perpetrators” and said that those responsible must be brought to justice.

“We also need to pray for this satanic spirit which seems to be hovering over Malawi. That spirit need to be renounced in Jesus’ name. It should not overshadow Malawi.

“Malawi has always been known as a God fearing nation. Where is that good spirit going? Let us join the head of state not only in condemning but curbing this evil act.”