Surge in ‘stunningly vicious' attacks on albino children in East Africa, UN rights chief warns

An Albino student (right) attends school in Niambly, near Duekoue, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: UNHCR/H. Caux

10 March 2015 – The United Nations human rights chief expressed revulsion at a recent spike in gruesome attacks against people with albinism in several East African countries where in the past six months, at least 15 albinos were abducted, wounded, or killed, including three such incidents last week.

“These attacks are often stunningly vicious, with children in particular being targeted,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement to the press.

“As a result, many people with albinism are living in abject fear. Some no longer dare to go outside, and children with albinism have stopped attending school because of the recent spate of assaults, murders and kidnappings,” he added.

In Malawi alone, at least six incidents have been reported in the first ten weeks of this year, compared to four incidents recorded over the previous two years. In the south of the country, where several kidnappings and killings have taken place, groups of men are reported to be roaming around hunting for people with albinism.

On 4 March, a 14-year-old girl was abducted by two men, but managed to escape. The following night, a two-year-old boy was reportedly kidnapped in another village. Four other attacks targeting people with albinism have been documented in Malawi since the beginning of the year.

On 22 January, a nine-year-old girl with albinism was kidnapped and is believed to have been killed. Four days earlier, a 68-year-old woman with albinism went missing and the following day, her dismembered body was found near her home, buried minus arms, legs and head. On 16 January, a two-year-old girl was kidnapped from her home and has not been seen since. And on 5 January, 11-year-old Mina Jeffrey was kidnapped during the night by three men, including an uncle, but managed to escape. Her uncle later said he had been promised $6,500 for her body.

The situation has been worsening in Tanzania as well. Last Saturday, a six-year-old boy, Baraka Cosmas Rusambo, was attacked in his home. The attackers fled with his right hand after cutting it off with a machete. Baraka and his mother, who suffered serious head injuries, are both in hospital. The police have moved Baraka’s two siblings, who also have albinism, to a safer place and have arrested seven suspects, including Baraka’s father.

“Since January, two other incidents have been reported, including the attempted kidnapping of a four-year-old boy, and the atrocious killing of a one-year-old baby, Yohana Bahati, who was kidnapped from his home on 17 February and later killed, with his arms and legs hacked off,” Mr. Zeid said.

A total of eight attacks have been reported in Tanzania since August 2014, during which two people with albinism were killed; one was kidnapped and is still missing; two others had limbs cut off by attackers; one was gang-raped; and two managed to escape from their kidnappers.

“The ban on witchcraft imposed by the Tanzanian authorities in January is a step in the right direction, as is the conviction of four people in Tanzania over the 2008 killing of a woman with albinism,” Mr. Zeid said. “However, I am concerned at the death sentences pronounced by the Court and I hope Tanzania will maintain its moratorium on the death penalty.”

Mr. Zeid called on authorities to prevent attacks on people with albinism in all countries where they are occurring, bring to justice alleged perpetrators and ensure that redress and rehabilitation for survivors and their families are made a priority.

Attacks against people with albinism have also taken place in Burundi, where 19 people from albinism have been killed since 2008. The latest incident took place on 12 December 2014, when a man was found dead, with a leg hacked off. According to reports, 11 people have been arrested in relation to attacks against people with albinism in Burundi, of whom six escaped and one was convicted. National policy to protect the rights of people with albinism in Burundi has been proposed but not yet initiated.

Mr. Zeid also highlighted the result of a recent study in Pakistan, which showed the multiple layers of human rights problems faced by people with albinism, including social rejection, medical and psychological problems, as well as confinement to poverty.


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