People with albinism in Malawi risk ‘total extinction’ – UN expert calls for urgent response not mere political rhetoric

The United Nations’ top expert on albinism said on Friday in Lilongwe that people with albinism in Malawi are at risk of “systemic extinction” if they continue to be murdered for their body parts for use in witchcraft.

Ero addressing a news conference:  to "an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions"

Ero addressing a news conference: to “an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions”.-Photo by Mphatso Nkhoma, Nyasa Times

Ero:We talk about protecting wildlife while not even prioritizing efforts in protecting people with albinism

Ero:We talk about protecting wildlife while not even prioritizing efforts in protecting people with albinism.-Photo by Mphatso Nkhoma, Nyasa Times

Ikponwosa Ero,  herself an albino, people with albinism are “an endangered people group facing a risk of systemic extinction over time if nothing is done.”

She said: “We talk about protecting wildlife while not even prioritizing efforts in protecting people with albinism,” she said.

Ero warned that the situation in Malawi amounted to “an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions.”

“Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack. Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum,” the human rights expert said at the end of her first official visit to Malawi.

“The frequent involvement of close relatives in cases of attacks is highly disturbing, and persons with albinism are unable to trust even those who are supposed to care for and protect them,” Ms. Ero noted. “Consequently, persons with albinism in the current context of attacks are locked in a spiral of fear and poverty.”

According to the police, 65 cases have been recorded since late 2014, and at least two further critical incidents reportedly occurred during her visit.

“Given the relatively small population size of people with albinism in Malawi – reported to be a little less than ten thousand – attacks against a few of them constitutes a danger to all of them,” she stressed.

“It is clear that an urgent and coordinated response from the Government, civil society and development partners working in strong partnership with each other is required,” she noted while stressing the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, which includes the involvement of organizations of persons with albinism at every step, where the process cannot be led directly by them.

Ms. Ero welcomed the launching of the Government’s Response Plan of 2015 and commended its content.

However, she noted, “the absence of resources attached to this plan has drastically delayed its implementation and such an emergency situation needs an emergency response.”

“Court sentences as handed down to convicted criminals do not always reflect the gravity of the crime,” she said. “As pointed out by various stakeholders during my visit, stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty.”

“The early return of suspects to their communities – whether due to the use of bail, fines or low judicial sentences – increases the fear in which persons with albinism live, sends a message of impunity to affected communities and increases the risks of mob killings,” she added.

The expert recommended “training for police, prosecutors and magistrates to increase knowledge of the current legislative framework applicable to these cases, cooperation between the police and the Department of Public Prosecutions,” as well as “adequate resources for the newly appointed special prosecutor.”

Ms. Ero pointed out that, although the amendment of relevant legislation is required, more immediate measures are also necessary such as a judicial direction that cases be handled only by professional magistrates and through the ongoing revision of the Sentencing Guidelines.

She also commended the protection measures adopted by community police and some traditional authorities as well as the support provided by communities to their members with albinism.

“The quick intervention of neighbours during attacks has in various cases led to the rescue of persons with albinism and to the arrest of perpetrators,” she said.

“Addressing the root causes of attacks, in particular why they are happening, is indispensable to eradicating them. It is worrying to note that witchcraft beliefs and practices are widespread in Malawi, although often a taboo topic,” Ms. Ero stated.

“Malawians have been taken by surprise by the recent increase of attacks against persons with albinism,” she said. “Yet, discrimination against persons with albinism has a long history in the country and is well rooted in beliefs as well as harmful traditional and cultural practices, including that persons with albinism do not die but simply disappear, and the practice of infanticide at birth on the pretext that the baby was stillborn.”

Albinos were targeted because of beliefs that their body parts “can increase wealth, make businesses prosper or facilitate employment”, said Ms Ero, the UN human rights council’s expert on albinism.

“Even in death, they do not rest in peace as their remains are robbed from graveyards,” she added.

Ms Ero, herself an albino, said there are economic motivations.

“Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and the sale of body parts of persons with albinism is believed to be very lucrative.”

The UN independent expert says she will produce a full report and recommendations to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.

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10 thoughts on “People with albinism in Malawi risk ‘total extinction’ – UN expert calls for urgent response not mere political rhetoric”

  1. every problem has a solution says:

    look at this malawi,it manages to protect wildlife but fails to protect people{albino},hey!! build a huge house and call all every albino to live there,their guards should be also albino with gun,am tolking to you mr.APM

  2. CHEWA FEDERAL FRONT says:

    What a bizarre story to be famed for! Look, this story is now all over the place. Even the BBC had a piece on Malawi’s “body-parts” business the other day.
    I could go on, but the bottom line is that Malawi needs spiritual re-awakening, because what we have here is DEMONIC POSSESSION.
    I’m not a moslem, but I chanced upon a talk on the “jinn” once, on Radio Islam. The Sheik was brilliant.
    The shadowy people who order the killing of others to get rich are themselves victims of some dark forces and they should be helped. Actually, rescued. How? EXORCISM? Ask the Sheik? Well, Ordained men of God, their time is NOW!!! The country is accelerating, head-long, towards the devil’s bottom-less pit; and only ORDAINED PROPHETS will save us.

  3. Jack says:

    ALL PEOPLE IN MALAWI FACE TOTAL EXTINCTION!..

    THE COUNTRY IS A SHIT HOLE..

  4. masa masina says:

    I hope the international community does not cut off aid to Malawi as a form of punishment for failing to protect the rights of people living with albinism.

  5. Che Wanimiliyoni says:

    To put it bluntly there is silent GENOCIDE of people with albinism in Malawi. And the perpetrators of such crime against humanity are being handed linient sentences short of death. Shame on the citizens of much touted and self acclaimed God fearing nation. And to you United Nations is this what you do where GENOCIDE is taking shape just mere talk as you did in Rwanda? Cant you provide a self haven for this people?

  6. The Analyst says:

    O…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..O
    Ine nde, I always blame all this on the country’s leadership – their indifference, passiveness and we-dont-care attitude is quite irritating.

    You see . . .
    . . . If APM were a real professor of law; being the president he is; could have convened Parliament for 5 days, enact a special law imposing DEATH PENALTY for anyone caught doing this or just carrying the bones.
    . . . If Chakwera cared about some other things also besides the presidency; he could have equally initiated the same.
    . . . If our MPs were not just interested in their allowances and empty-talk in Parliament, one or two of them could have just said the word “albinos”. Alas! Not even one.
    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
    Truth is . . .
    . . . If you kill one or two or three of these wicked-minded-foolish fools; and deliberately publicise the same on TV, radio, newspapers e.t.c; the remnants would think twice and perhaps not think at all, about engaging in this evil hunt.
    . . . Its quite laughable how Malawi (the poorest, and one of the most corrupt); would want to pretent and be seen as being more civilised hence avoid the death penalty, when real advanced economies like the U.S, still apply the death penalty, for such heinous acts as these.

    I WILL KEEP BLAMING THE PRESIDENT, CHAKWERA, MPs, and anyone who has the power to change the country’s laws but chooses not to act and help save these helpless and hopeless people (albinos).
    O…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..O

    1. Bwande says:

      Your president cannot speak about this or even convene an emergency parliament session because he cannot pronounce the term ‘Albino’. Moreso if it were to be in Chichewa. Remember ‘ndabwera kudzatsegula ujeni… ujeni… uyu… ndisiyeni ndimalize…’. Well, this is a serious matter.

      Malawians tend to jump onto any belief and always overdo it. Mpaka kumpanga overtake Satana. Tanzanians at least managed to deal with this. But it’s really shameful thing to be associated with as a country. I don’t know if we can even think of attracting foreign investors or tourists with this making news around the world. Mzungu tidzayamba kumuyesa ngati albino. You can’t be proud to be a Malawian. Really

  7. Bwande says:

    The most shameful thing to come out of Malawi. Zinayambira ku Tanzania pano zatsalira ndi a Malawi

  8. Christian says:

    don’t worry God will protect them since Malawi is a God fearing nation.

  9. Nyani wa ku Mwananyani says:

    Fellow Malawians: This is serious, very serious business. No kidding when the UN sends someone like Ms Ero to “school” us on this subject!
    And we must take action real quick.
    This is, to be sure, a cris de coeur or a passionate/desperate cry from a PWA, regarding people like her. Who are human beings, just like you and me.
    Definite action is needed from all the leaders in this land – religious leaders, politicians, the Police and Judiciary, chiefs – including Village Heads, business leaders, academics and even NGOs. This is the juncture when those who champion human rights should show show up, raise their hands and show their mettle. Asa!
    What will you say when your grand kids ask you years from now: “What did you do, grand dad/grandma, when Albinos were being hunted and killed in our country; even if you were not influential? Were you waiting for GENOCIDE, Rwanda style?”
    Be prepared to answer questions like these. regarding this dark chapter in our history.

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