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UN Concerned About Minority Group Discrimination in Benin, Zimbabwe

FILE - An albino child, center, joins marchers demanding equal rights for members of Zimbabwe's albino community, in Harare, June, 18, 2016.
FILE - An albino child, center, joins marchers demanding equal rights for members of Zimbabwe's albino community, in Harare, June, 18, 2016.

A U.N. monitoring committee is urging Benin and Zimbabwe to address alleged discrimination against minority and marginalized groups in their countries. The committee released findings this week on progress in seven countries whose records were under review.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed regret that Benin’s national plan of action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance has been only partially implemented since it was adopted in 2014.

While discrimination and hate speech remain prevalent, mainly against albinos, the committee said few people have formally complained about the crimes.

Committee member Pansy Tlakula surmised it might be due to lack of awareness of available judicial remedies, lack of confidence in the justice system or fear of reprisals on the part of victims.

She said people with albinism are most victimized by the discrimination that pervades the society. “In our interactive dialogue with Benin, the committee raised concerns about reports that people with albinism are often subjected to extreme physical attacks, stigmatization and discrimination based on beliefs related to witchcraft and skin color.”

The committee urged Benin to take effective measures to protect people with albinism from such vicious behavior and to ensure they have equal access to education, health, and employment.

Regarding Zimbabwe, the committee said it was pleased with the positive measures taken by the government to implement the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

However, Tlakula said the committee was disturbed by reports that atrocities committed during the Gukurahundi violence of the 1980s continue to be a source of ethnic tension. Around 20,000 Ndebele-speaking people were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces by government forces in the 1980s.

Tlakula said many victims remain traumatized. She said the committee is concerned that they are barred by state agents from participating in mourning and commemorative activities.

“It urged Zimbabwe to take measures to ensure that mourning and commemorative activities can be conducted without restrictions or threats. It also called on the state party to ensure that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission fulfills its responsibilities to provide a platform for post-conflict public truth-telling,” she noted.

The committee also criticized the widespread discrimination against people who work in the informal sector or as domestic laborers, noting most are Black women who face low wages and work in dehumanizing conditions.

The U.N. experts requested Zimbabwe amend its labor laws to end discrimination on the grounds of race, class, and gender.