Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Malawi must stop ritual murders of albinos

There is a human rights crisis in Malawi. People live in great fear, their lives are in danger because they were born with a genetic condition: albinism.

They are being hunted for their bones and body parts, and the perpetrators are going unpunished.

There has been a huge rise in the number of attacks in the last two years.

Malawi’s government urgently needs to protect the thousands of people with albinism – a vulnerable group of people at risk of abductions and killings.

David Fletcher, a teenager with albinism, had gone to watch a football match at Tete Football Ground in Nambirikira Village on April 24 when he went missing.
Malawi must stop ritual murders of albinos
On May 2 this year, the Malawian police confirmed that Fletcher’s body had been found in Mozambique with his hands and feet chopped off.

Fletcher was last seen in the company of a colleague who disappeared along with him, who is still missing.

He was reportedly sold to a traditional healer in Mozambique. Two men were arrested in connection with his murder.

Jenifer Namusyo, a 30-year-old woman with albinism from Phalombe District in southern Malawi, left her home in Gwembere Village on her bike on April 30 to seek traditional medicine in nearby Mwambeni Village. She never made it.

Hours later, Namusyo’s dead body and bicycle were found on the path to the village. Attackers had cut out her breasts and gouged out her eyes, and she had been stabbed several times.

Two-year-old Whitney Chilumpha disappeared on the night of April 3 from her home in Chiziya Village, Kasungu District.

Whitney’s mum alerted the neighbours and they set about searching for the toddler, but Whitney was nowhere to be seen. The mother reported her missing daughter to the police.

On April 15, baby Whitney’s skull, teeth and the clothes she had been wearing were discovered in a nearby village.

Police are keeping Whitney’s father and another man in custody over her disappearance and murder.

Harry Mokoshini was abducted on the night of February 26 when a gang of men broke into the family home in Moto Village, Machinga District.

They took Makoshini from his mother, threatening and injuring her as they kidnapped her son before her eyes.

Police found Makoshini’s severed head in a neighbouring village on March 3.

Makoshini’s uncle has since been arrested in connection with the boy’s abduction and murder, along with another man who has an existing conviction for possessing the bones of someone with albinism.

He had been fined the equivalent of $30 for the crime in 2015.

These are some of the latest victims of a horrific – and growing – trend in Malawi of abductions and killings of people with albinism, for their bones and body parts to be used in witchcraft.

Attacks increased sharply last year. At least 18 people have been killed for albinism in Malawi since November 2014; five others have disappeared without a trace in that time.

Forty-five incidents were reported last year alone – of murders and attempted murders, abductions and attempted abductions – although the real figure could be much higher, due to the fact that secretive rituals in rural areas are rarely reported.

There is also no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.

Malawian President Peter Mutharika issued a statement in March last year condemning the wave of attacks on people with albinism.

He called on police to arrest perpetrators and protect those with albinism and their families at risk of attack – but police and governmental response since then has been lacklustre.

Albinism is a rare, genetically-inherited condition that someone is born with. Both parents must carry the gene – even if they do not have albinism themselves – for a child to be born with albinism.

The condition affects both men and women, regardless of ethnicity and in all countries of the world. It is estimated that one in 17,000 people has albinism.

The condition results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As a result, almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone to developing skin cancer.

There is no cure for the absence of melanin.

The majority of people living with albinism in Malawi live in rural areas in extreme poverty.

Superstitions and mistaken beliefs have led to people abducting, mutilating and ritualistically killing people with albinism to get their bones and body parts, which are believed to bring riches.

This has been the main basis underpinning all recent recorded violent attacks, and societal attitudes about albinism are not changing. The government urgently needs to address this.

The few perpetrators who have been arrested have either been acquitted or given light sentences considering the crimes committed.

The rise in the targeted attacks has led to parents withdrawing children with albinism from schools for fear that their child will be abducted.

Some people with albinism have moved from rural to urban areas for their own safety, and many are now accompanied by family members for protection – restricting their right to freedom of movement.

People with albinism in Malawi often experience social discrimination.

They are discriminated against in the education system and prevented from accessing basic public services.

Many people with albinism in Malawi die from skin cancer because they can’’t access healthcare, including preventative resources like sunscreen and information about their skin condition.

Some children have been abducted and sold by family members.

Relatives are allegedly linked with most disappearances.

In the case of Eunice Phiri, a 53-year-old woman with albinism, her brother and two other men tricked her to accompany them on a trip to Zambia on January 23 this year.

Five days later Phiri’s body was discovered by a herdsman in Kasungu National Park. Her arms had been hewn off.

Even the dead are not left in peace. The police recorded at least 39 people with albinism being illegally exhumed from graves, or having body parts removed from their corpses.

We are concerned that some of these reported cases might have been murdered and then disposed of, rather than graves that were exhumed.

The lack of proper protection from government bodies and the police has led to vigilante murders in response to the abductions. In early March, a mob in Nsanje, southern Malawi, burned to death seven men who had allegedly been found with the bones of a person with albinism.

Such vigilante violence is no response to any crime; it highlights the need for the government to step in and police this wave of hate targeted at a vulnerable group, before people take matters of ‘justice’ into their own hands. — Amnesty UK Copyright © Africa 24 News. All rights reserved. Distributed by Africa Metro Global Media ( To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, Click Here.

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