Malawi map
Malawi map

GENEVA - The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed grave concern over a surge of mob killings in Malawi against people accused of murder and, in some cases, suspected of witchcraft. 

U.N. monitors say at least 16 people reportedly have been killed across Malawi over the past two months. The U.N. human rights office says it does not know what is triggering the increase in killings.

In one instance, according to spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly, a mob stormed a police station, taking a man out of his cell and killing him.  She says it happened in the city of Dedza, located 85 kilometers from the capital, Lilongwe.   She adds the population is frightened and very worried.

“In by far the worst incident reported this year, seven people accused of possessing human bones were attacked and set on fire by a mob on 1 March in Nsanje’s district ," said Pouilly. " On 25 January, four elderly members of the same family were also beaten and killed by a mob in Neno District after being accused of using witchcraft to kill a 17-year-old woman by lightning.”

Albinos targeted

Pouilly tells VOA at least one albino is known to have been killed for his or her body parts.  Malawi is one of several African countries where a flourishing trade in such parts exists under the mistaken belief they bring good luck and political success.

Mwigulu Matonage Magesa of Tanzania does homework
FILE - Mwigulu Matonage Magesa of Tanzania does homework in the Staten Island borough of New York, Sept. 21, 2015. The 12-year-old was outfitted for a prosthetic after his arm was brutally amputated by attackers in the East African country.

Pouilly says the U.N. independent expert on people with albinism will go on a fact-finding mission to Malawi in a couple of weeks and look into the case.  She says her office is calling on authorities in Malawi to address the root causes of the mob attacks.

“There are a number of things that need to be looked at, including what seems to be the lack of trust that the population seems to have in its own justice system," said Pouilly. "So, there have been allegations in some cases that police forces have not intervened when these killings were taking place.  So, those also are serious allegations that we think the Malawi government needs to look into.” 

The U.N. human rights office is urging the government to promptly identify and prosecute those involved in mob killings, and to compensate the victims.