“Albinism is one of the most unfortunate vulnerabilities… and needs to be addressed immediately at international level.”
Persecution of people with albinism sometimes based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. Such superstition is present especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, it has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user .As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracized and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck. The persecutions of people with albinism take place mostly in Sub-Saharan African communities, especially among East Africans.
Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which is very rare and, worldwide, affects approximately one in twenty thousand people. Although rare in the western world, albinism is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa, likely as a result of consanguinity.Both parents, who may or may not be albinos themselves, must carry the gene if it is to be passed on to the child.
Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck, and that their “disease” could be contagious, which is often the view of even members of the medical and professional community. These misconceptions, coupled with the lack of education, are some of the key reasons that albinism is so heavily persecuted. This lack of knowledge about people with albinism means that folktales and superstition in the name of witchcraft take the place of medical and scientific facts in the minds of many native Africans, with and without albinism, which in turn has major effects on the social integration of albinistic people into African society. Ninety-eight percent of albinos die by the age of forty for reasons which could easily be prevented.
Origins of myths and superstition causing persecution of people with albinism
African rituals and spiritual ideas about albinism have led to the brutal murder of and attacks on innocent men, women and especially children. These ideas have been around for many generations, but in recent years witch doctors have been teaching misconceived ideas about the promise of wealth, success and power when albino hair or limbs are used in a potion as part of witchcraft practices. This has gained public attention nationally and internationally as these crimes have been reported as crimes against human rights. “infanticide, kidnapping, amputations, and decapitations, committed for purposes of supplying highly valued body parts used for amulets, which are then sold in underground witchcraft market.
It is clear that “the main driving forces underlying these profiling crimes are ignorance, myth, and superstition, such as the belief that individuals with albinism possess superpowers or that their body parts bestow fortune and health.”It is commonly known that in many communities, predominantly in Tanzania and parts of east Africa, superstitious views derived from ancient spiritual beliefs and reinforced by local witch doctors have been carried through centuries of ritualistic practices and mythical beliefs. This creates a serious risk to the lives of persons with albinism as the people believe it will bring them wealth, power, success or health depending on the variances of interpretation. Senior police officers claim that these body parts may be sold for as much as US$75,000 on the black market for a set of arms, legs, ears, and genitals from an individual with albinism. Therefore, there has been an extensive amount of albino murders in the past decade especially in Burundi and Tanzania, where in 2007 more than seventy documented killings took place and one hundred and fifty body parts of albinos were reported to have been chopped off. Now the number of killings is well over one hundred, with low conviction rates, and albinos continue to have limbs severed, leaving many crippled or severely maimed, traumatized and tortured in the process.
This threat to albinos has the potential to cause extreme trauma and stress in their daily lives, which are already impacted by the stress of their condition, affecting skin and eyesight, placing albinos in a constant state of insecurity and distrust. According to Navi Pillay, the The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, because of the social and educational exclusion which can often occur there are often very low education levels in albinos, so that they lack social and economic tools to live productive lives.
The UN report submitted as part of the Human Rights Council resolution 23/13 of 13 June 2013 states that albinos are often regarded as “ghosts and not human beings, who can be wiped off the global map.” They are often persecuted as devils or people who are a bad omen or suffer from a curse. In some communities it is “believed that contact with them will bring bad luck, sickness or death.” Therefore, this is discrimination and mental and emotional persecution alone, where severe bullying of children, exclusion and abandonment occurs even without brutal physical persecution.
However, the issues which have created a spotlight for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations are the murder of albinos for medicine and dismemberment, and attacks and murder of persons with albinism. Another myth that imposes a risk on people with albinism is the belief that “sexual intercourse with a woman or a girl with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS.” Sacrifice of albinos is believed also to “appease the god of the mountain” when fear of a volcano eruption is possible, and it is believed that pulling the hair of albinos can bring good luck. It has also been reported that “miners use the bones of persons with albinism as amulets or bury them where they are drilling for gold. The attacks which occur usually result in the death or severe mutilation of the albino, which according to the Human rights council can in “some cases involve trade in organs, trafficking in persons and sale of children, infanticide and abandonment of children.
This is a cry for international exposure and help to ensure that people suffering from albinism can be protected from inhumane killings and to be sheltered from the merciless hunters of albino body parts for their potions and spiritual medicine. “The main issues that should be addressed include skin cancer prevention education, stigma and discrimination denouncement, and swift prosecution of albino hunters and their sponsors.” Therefore, it is clear that albinos are facing many issues in their lives, and must be protected on the basis of human rights even if they look different and unlike any other race on earth. It is “imperative to inform the medical community and the general national and international public about the tragedies faced by albinos to protect them from skin cancer and ritualistic murders by individuals seeking wealth through clandestine markets perpetuating witchcraft.”
A number of steps were taken by the government to protect the albino population. The president ordered a crackdown on witchdoctors in the spring of 2008. In addition, an albino woman, Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, was named to become a member of the parliament, the first albino in such a position in the history of Tanzania. Police have also been advised to generate lists of albinos and provide special protection for them.