Image credit: John Bavman

A quiet massacre of people with albinism is on the rise in Malawi, according to a report from UN Expert Ikponwosa Ero.

Upon the eve of her extensive research trip in Malawi,  Ero noted that from her findings, people with albinism in the areas she visited in Malawi, particularly children and parents of children with albinism constantly live in fear of attack. She reports that they minimize their movement to restrict any possible violent attacks.

Ero also noted that 65 cases have been recorded since late 2014 by the police force, and two further critical incidents 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 said.   “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 added.

Although there is a requirement for critical intervention, she commended existing efforts from government, civil society and the community. Notably, the protection measures adopted by traditional authorities and community police.

Further, A response plan in the form of the newly appointed special prosecutor launched in 2015 from the government. However, it is countered by the lack of resources availed to different institutions that can ensure a safe space made viable to people of albinism in Malawi. “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. Citing that stealing a cow attracts a higher penalty that criminals that threaten lives of people with albinism.

“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. From her report, Ero recommended training for prosecutors, magistrates and police officers to increase knowledge of the current laws and structures applicable to these ongoing atrocities. Further, a need for adequate resource for the special prosecutor.

Ero also noted that speaking on the root cause of these attacks as communities and societies needs to happen with urgency. She noted that due to witchcraft beliefs and practices being such a taboo topic in the region, atrocities occur seamlessly. “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.”

The Nigerian expert of human rights and atrocities is set to produce a full report and recommendations to the Human rights council next March 2017.