Social Issues
UN Condemns Brutal Attacks On Albinos Targeted For Their Skin Colour In Tanzania
March 6, 2013
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albinos-tanzania-feature.jpg
Photo: Al Jazeera

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has condemned a recent series of "horrific attacks" against albinos in Tanzania, including the murder of a young boy, the BBC reports.

Albinos have faced discrimination in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, according to Al Jazeera, because it's widely believed their condition is associated with the supernatural.

They are seen by some as "a kind of phantom or ghost, who rather than die will dissolve or disappear with the wind and rain. As a result, in some communities, albinos have been feared and marginalized."

Some practitioners of witchcraft have also spread the belief that their rituals will be more effective if the limbs and organs of albinos are used. And the UN says in a statement that some of those who practice witchcraft "allegedly also believe that the witchcraft is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, which explains why the body parts are often cut from live victims."

Many albinos have been targeted, with 71 people killed since 2006 and 29 others attacked.

Only 5 people have been convicted for those killings to date.

The UN's condemnation comes after a series of attacks took place in a short period of time.

Four attacks were documented in just 16 days between the end of January and mid-February. On January 31, a seven-year-old boy was killed by attackers, alongside his 95-year-old grandfather who was trying to protect him.

A seven-month-old baby escaped death on February 5 when armed men attacked his home. Villagers chased away the attackers and surrounded the house to protect the child.

Five armed men attacked 39-year-old Maria Chambanenge on February 11 (one of them was allegedly her husband), cutting off her left arm while she was sleeping with two of her four kids. The suspects have been arrested and her arm has been recovered.

And a 10-year-old boy was attacked on his way home from school and had his left arm
cut off above the elbow. Three men were arrested.

"I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks, which were committed in particularly horrifying circumstances, and which have involved dismembering people, including children, while they are still alive," Pillay said in the UN statement.

"People with albinism have the right to start living, like anyone else, without fear of being killed or dismembered."

For more on the challenges faced by albinos in Tanzania, check out Al Jazeera's documentary, 'The Spell of the Albino' below.

A particularly heartbreaking story starts around the 3:00 mark: it's about an attack on a young boy, Adam, who had three fingers cut off while his father looked on.

Be aware, there are some graphic images in the doc.

Tanzania is not the only African country where albino killings have been reported - they have apparently taken place in dozens of countries, including South Africa and Kenya - but they are worse in Tanzania, NPR reports.

In fact, things are so difficult for albinos that the government has opened specialized boarding schools where they can study safely.

One school that welcomes albino students is called the Golden Valley English Medium School in Geita. The private residential school's 300 or so students are sponsored by a Canadian non-profit called Under the Same Sun. 35 of those students are albino - the school has a policy of full integration, in an effort to end the stigmatism of albinism.

Check out their website right here, and this photo of some of the students from 2011.

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Photo: Reuters

According to estimates, about 15,000 albinos live in Tanzania, which is thought to be the largest population in Africa. The country has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world: almost one in every 1,400 people, versus one in 20,000 worldwide.

About 8,000 of the country's albinos are registered with the Tanzania Albino Society, which has pressured the government to respond to attacks.

There has been some positive change at the government level in the past few years. In 2008, Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer was appointed to the National Assembly of Tanzania by president Jakaya Kikwete.

Kway-Geer was the first albino to hold government office, and she was given the task of improving the treatment of albinos.

And in 2010, Salum Khalfan Barwany became Tanzania's first elected albino MP. He said at the time he would pressure the government for laws protecting albinos and people with disabilities.

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