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UN Official Issues Urgent Call for Protection of People With Albinism

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Albino Said Abdallah, who lost his left hand in an attack, is seen recovering at Morogoro hospital, Tanzania, May 7, 2010.

A U.N. expert is calling for urgent action to curb attacks on people with albinism who are killed and maimed for their body parts. In Geneva, the independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism has submitted a report on this harmful practice in African countries to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

More than 600 attacks and other violations against people with albinism have been reported in 27 countries over the last six years, with the most recent just a few days ago.

U.N. expert Ikponwosa Ero says it is believed that people with albinism can transmit magical powers She says there is a high demand for their body parts for use in witchcraft rituals or traditional medicine. Because this odious practice operates in secret, she says many of these crimes go unreported.

She says people pay a high price for albino body parts, believing they can bring wealth and good luck. This, she says, has led to a thriving clandestine market.

Ero says she interviewed several perpetrators of attacks on albinos serving time in prison in Mozambique to learn why they had committed these crimes.

“Several of these revealed to me that they were offered extremely high amounts of money - in the hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollar equivalents in exchange for body parts of persons with albinism…. There was also accounts allegedly involvement of practitioners of traditional medicine and witchdoctors and I discussed [this] with at least one practitioner of traditional medicine in custody. Although there was one reference to the involvement of a foreigner, all who were in prison I interviewed were all nationals of Mozambique,” she said.

She added that this is contrary to the belief that these heinous acts are being committed by foreigners.

In her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ero offered concrete recommendations for combating the killing, mutilating and trafficking in body parts of people with albinism. The action plan includes prevention, protection and accountability measures as well as steps to combat discrimination, while exploring the root causes behind these crimes.

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