U.N. expert denounces scores of attacks on people with albinism

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2016 7:16 PM

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At least forty people with albinism have reportedly been attacked in the last eight months, the United Nations' top expert on albinism said on Tuesday in releasing a report condemning the superstitions behind the violence.

All the attacks took place in sub-Saharan Africa, and most victims were likely to have been children, said Ikponwosa Ero, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights and albinism.

People with albinism live in danger in regions of the world where their body parts are valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price. Superstition leads many to believe albino children bring bad luck.

Attacks against people with albinism are particularly brutal, at times involving victims being dismembered alive by assailants wielding machetes, Ero said in issuing her first report in her UN position.

"Dangerous myths" motivate and facilitate the hunting and attacks, Ero said. Ero, who is from Nigeria and has albinism, took the job as the UN's first independent expert on the issue last August.

"Many erroneously believe people with albinism are not human beings but are ghosts or subhuman and cannot die but only disappear," she added.

The report said the impact of witchcraft on people with albinism is a "harmful traditional practice and ... one of the root causes of ritual attacks."

It called for investigations into the attacks and increased prosecutions as well as public education from a scientific perspective to counteract dangerous prejudices and traditional practices and beliefs.

"Such awareness-raising will contribute to fighting myths and stereotypes about persons with albinism, particularly those that fuel stigma, discrimination and attacks," the report said.

Albinism is a congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. It is more common, however, in sub-Saharan Africa.

The number of attacks could well be higher as they are frequently carried out in secret and not reported, Ero said.

Discrimination, harassment and violence toward people with albinism are often met with passivity and indifference, taking place in remote areas and involving children who are perceived as bringing shame to their families, the report said.

Children are commonly victims of the attacks, Ero told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"It's pretty evident why," she said. "They are easy to capture because kids sometimes roam freely without adult supervision."

Victims' body parts are hacked off to create potions or amulets. The practice feeds upon beliefs that the body parts can bring wealth, luck or political success.

On the black market, prices range from $2,000 for an albino limb to $75,000 for an entire corpse, the report said.

The research collected reports of attacks from charities and agencies and could not independently confirm all the incidents, Ero said.

While the report did not name the seven countries where the violence occurred, attacks against people with albinism this year have been reported in Burundi, Malawi and Mozambique, according to Under the Same Sun, a Canadian advocacy charity.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)