A damning report released to the United Nations’s Human Rights Council last week has unearthed how albino’s on the continent are massacred for witchcraft rituals, with prices ranging from US$2000(N$31 000) to US$75 000(N$1.1 million) per limb or set respectively. The report also highlighted how victims are being dismembered while still alive – their fingers, arms, legs, eyes, genitals, skin, bones, head and hair hacked off.
“Many involved in these crimes believe that the body parts being used for potions will be more effective the more the victim screams,” revealed the report.
The report was compiled by Independent Expert on Albinism Ikponwosa Ero. The position was created by the Human Rights Council as a way to focus attention and provide much needed information and discussion on the issue. According to Eero: “People with albinism are being hunted for witchcraft rituals, their body parts hacked off with machetes, and even having their graves desecrated.” People with albinism often face great challenges to their rights such as being denied jobs or places at school and also extreme violence and loss of life as there is a lucrative trade in body parts of persons with albinism in some countries for use in witchcraft.
In fact, Ero said in her report that as a child and as an adult she faced problems including “relentless public name calling.” “Dangerous myths feed these attacks on innocent people: many erroneously believe people with albinism are not human beings, but are ghosts or subhuman and cannot die but only disappear,” said Ero who added that many people still believe albinism is a curse. Ero stated in her report that since her appointment last August, there was reports of 40 attacks across seven countries. She says that represents just a fraction of the total as most are secretive rituals in rural areas that are never reported; some even involve the victims’ own family members being complicit.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)“a lucrative and macabre market” has emerged in the body parts of people with albinism being traded for use in witchcraft rituals, potions or amulets, with reported prices ranging from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a ‘complete set’ or corpse.
Root causes of attacks
In her report, the Independent Expert presented a plan to spearhead the identification of root causes of attacks. “This will include careful understanding, definition and delineation of witchcraft practice, the form it takes and the effects it has on persons with albinism,” she stated.
“Effective measures to end attacks will include plans to fast track immediate investigation of allegations and prosecution of alleged perpetrators; appropriate legal, social, psychological and medical remedy and redress for victims; actions to prevent trafficking in body parts, as well as measures for the safe re-integration of displaced persons with albinism,” she added. Ero further noted in her report that “while discrimination based on skin colour is an everyday reality for most persons with albinism, discourse on discrimination based on colour has rarely been applied to albinism,” explaining that it has tended to focus on race or ethnicity.
“There is potential to address albinism under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination because the governing concept is racial discrimination which may be based on any of five ‘grounds’: race, colour, descent, national origin and ethnic origin,” she underscored. Children also make up a large proportion of the victims, not least because of another traditional belief that the more innocent a victim is the more potent his or her body parts will be for the potion. Meanwhile, OHCHR underlined that thousands of people with albinism are being subjected to stigma and discrimination around the world and the violations are met with passivity and indifference. This ranges from bullying at school to more extreme manifestations such as infanticide, physical threats and attacks. Women with albinism are reportedly the victims of targeted sexual assaults because of a myth that sex with them can cure HIV/AIDS. Mothers are ostracized or discriminated against if they give birth to a child with albinism because it’s seen as the result of a curse, a bad omen or of infidelity.