UN expert reports attacks on Albinos in Africa

United Nations expert releases report about increasing violence against people with albinism due to traditional superstitions

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Albinos in parts of Africa are often treated brutally due to belief in witchcraft.

At least 40 people have been attacked in the last eight months, the United Nations top expert on albinism said on Tuesday in a report condemning the superstitions practices behind the violence.

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

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

African people with albinism are reportedly being hunted, killed and dismembered for witchcraft rituals because people believe that they bring bad luck.

In her first report to the UN Human Rights Council, UN expert Ero noted that, attacks against people with albinism are particularly brutal, at times involving victims being dismembered alive by assailants wielding machetes.

"Dangerous myths" motivate and facilitate the hunting and attacks, she said. Ero, who 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 impact of witchcraft on people with albinism is a “harmful traditional practice and … one of the root causes of ritual attacks” according to the report.

The report 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.

The number of attacks could well be higher as they are frequently carried out in secret and not reported, Ero said and added that children are commonly victims of the attacks.

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

According to report, 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.

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 noted.

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.

TRTWorld and agencies