NEW RELEASES – “When I was born, my mother tells me that the traditional midwife made a grimace when she saw me. No one welcomed the arrival of a strange baby.”1 These are the meaningful words of Hamis Ngomella, chairman of the albino association and representative the Red Cross. Persons with albinism face discrimination in their everyday life and persecutions that affect their health and well-being all over the world. The special case of children in Tanzania stresses the importance of the need for progress in the protection of albinos’ human rights in order for them to enjoy "the same standards of equality rights and dignity as others."2
Albinism in the African culture
As reported by Ikponwosa Ero, the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by albino persons, albinism “is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that affects people worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender.”3 Deriving from a significant lack in the production of melanin, it manifests in a partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. Albinism occurs everywhere in the world, however it’s mostly present in Africa. It’s extremely difficult to determine how many albino persons there are in Africa as the estimates vary hugely. In spite of the difficulties, Dan Gilgoff (National Geographic) wrote that in Tanzania “albino advocacy groups put the number somewhere above 100,000, out of a total population of roughly 48 million people.”4
Despite the small number of albino persons, the lives of the ones that are born in Africa are not easy ones and have never been. According to ancient African traditions, albinos are thought to be ghosts whose parts of the body can be used to make potions and other rituals in order to bring luck and success. Tragically, “many Africans believe that albinos are ghosts who are immune to death and eventually just vanish.”5 These macabre traditions and old beliefs lead today to the prosecution and mutilation of many albinos in Africa, especially in Tanzania.
According to Anseleme Katyunguruza, the Secretary General of the Burundi Red Cross, an increase in “albino hunting” began in 2008, with a special focus on Tanzania. Katyunguruza stated that “witch doctors revived an old superstition that the limbs and genitals of an albino can bring quicker and better results to one’s enterprise. We are condemning and fighting this horrible form of discrimination.”6
Discrimination and human rights abuses
Article 5 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child states: “Every child has an inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.”7 The incredibly important right protected by this piece of legislation – which has been ratified by Tanzania - is not enjoyed by every child in the same way.
Albino children face discrimination in their everyday life since the day they’re born. For instance, in the educative field, “Janet Anatoli, a 28-year-old Tanzanian albino, says teachers in grade school beat her because she couldn't see the chalkboard, due to impaired eyesight caused by her albinism. Many albinos speak of being socially ostracized from a young age and about the toll it takes on their education.”8 The National Geographic9 also reported that Alfred Nabuli, a doctor who helps run an albinism program at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi, Tanzania, said that many albino children aren't sent to school and that many of those who are suffer from poor performance. In a country where access to education is already extremely difficult and where resources are scarce, the discriminatory treatment that albino children have to go through creates more burdens to their development as healthy and respected human beings.
Moreover, not only albino children are discriminated within their communities and alienated from the rest of society, they’re also, tragically, victims of attacks of those who believe that the use of children for rituals and witchcraft practices is “linked to the pursuit of innocence, which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual"10, explains Erick Kabendera, a journalist who has been dealing with this issue for many years. Hence, the result is that especially albino children are targeted by traffickers as it’s their belief that the power of these human beings for rituals can be enhanced by their young age.
Inefficiency of the legal system fueling inhuman practices
Given the tragedy and gravity of this issue, what has been done so far? And, importantly, what can be done in the future?
In response to the first question, for now, much has been done in terms of raising awareness on the human rights abuses suffered by young albinos. However, there is a specific problem in terms of access to justice and the effective respect of fair trials. As the BBC has reported: “more than 70 albinos have been killed over the last three years in Tanzania, while there have been only 10 convictions for murder.”11 The United Nations12 have expressed their concern over the attacks against persons with albinism which are often committed with impunity, in a recent Resolution. In relation to the issue of impunity, importantly, Ikponwosa Ero pointed out that “challenges to ending impunity may include lack of confidence in the law enforcement or judicial system owing to fear of reprisals or stigmatization, ignorance of their rights or lack of financial resources.”13 Furthermore, Amnesty International USA has stressed how “police investigations of such cases [remain] slow and the overall government effort to prevent attacks on albino people [is] inadequate.”14
On top of the issue of impunity, the reality of a “market of killings”15 has started to become more evident. Many parents decide to sell their albino child in exchange of money and the prices can get extremely high: “with the body parts believed to be fetching tens of thousands of dollars on the black market, the trade is thought to be driven by the wealthiest members of society.”16 As the UN Independent Expert interestingly specified, “civil society reports indicate that, motivated by those prices, family members and communities have sold, or attempted to sell, persons with albinism, thereby fuelling the supply side of this macabre trade. The prices also indicate the involvement of wealthy individuals as they stand in sharp contrast to the average annual income per capita reported in the affected regions.”17
Therefore, in relation to the second question, where do we go from here? Notably, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has recently called upon “State Parties to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy and effective investigations into attacks against persons with albinism, the prosecution of those responsible, and by ensuring that victims and members of their families have access to appropriate remedies.”18 This is an important starting point since Tanzania has been called upon as one of the states that need to effectively enact a progressive change. Moreover, the UN Independent Expert “considers it important to identify the applicable human rights legal framework and the key international human rights instruments that could both comprehensively and effectively address the human rights – related issues faced by persons with albinism in a sustainable way.”19
To sum it up succinctly: a correct human rights framework needs to be efficiently and appropriately found and adopted. International conventions should be respected and regarded as fundamental tools to be addressed in every aspect of albino persons’ lives. In order to fully achieve equal standards of equality and human rights protection for albinos, the need for a clear implementation of legal provisions has to be enacted. Finally, it’s important not to stop raising awareness over the situation of Tanzanian and African albino children and ask the international community to take action for their protection and safeguard.
1 ENGSTRAND-NEACSU Andrei (2009) “Defending albinos’ rights to life”, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Available at: http://www.ifrc.org/en/noticias/noticias/international/defending-albinos...
2 OHCHR (2016) “Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism”, Human Rights Council, 31st Session. Available at: http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/UN%20Report%20-%20Enjoym...
4GILGOFF Dan (2013) “As Tanzania's Albino Killings Continue, Unanswered Questions Raise Fears”, National Geographic. Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131011-albino-killings-w...
6ENGSTRAND-NEACSU Andrei, Op.Cit.
7African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990. Available at: http://www.achpr.org/instruments/child#a5
8ENGSTRAND-NEACSU Andrei, Op.Cit.
9GILGOFF Dan, Op.Cit.
11BBC News (2014), “Tanzania's albino community: 'Killed like animals' ” Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30394260
12OHCHR (2013) “Technical cooperation for the prevention of attacks against persons with albinism”, Human Rights Council, 21/33. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/AdvisoryCom/A_HRC_RES_...
13 OHCHR (2016), Op.Cit.
14Amnesty International USA (2013) “Tanzania Human Rights”. Available at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/africa/tanzania
15 BBC News, Op.Cit.
16ENGSTRAND-NEACSU Andrei, Op.Cit.
17 OHCHR (2016), Op.Cit.
18African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (2013) “Resolution on the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism”, 54th Ordinary Session held from 22 October to 5 November 2013 in Banjul, The Gambia. Available at: http://www.achpr.org/sessions/54th/resolutions/263/
19OHCHR (2016), Op.Cit.
MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990. Available at: http://www.achpr.org/instruments/child#a5
African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (2013) “Resolution on the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism”, 54th Ordinary Session held from 22 October to 5 November 2013 in Banjul, The Gambia. Available at: http://www.achpr.org/sessions/54th/resolutions/263/
Amnesty International USA (2013) “Tanzania Human Rights”. Available at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/africa/tanzania
BBC News (2014), “Tanzania's albino community: 'Killed like animals' ” Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30394260
ENGSTRAND-NEACSU Andrei (2009) “Defending albinos’ rights to life”, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Available at: http://www.ifrc.org/en/noticias/noticias/international/defending-albinos...
GILGOFF Dan (2013) “As Tanzania's Albino Killings Continue, Unanswered Questions Raise Fears”, National Geographic. Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131011-albino-killings-w...
JOHNSON Constance (2014) “Tanzania; United Nations: Protection Needed for Albinos”, Global Legal Monitor, Library of Congress. Available at: http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/tanzania-united-nations-prot...
OHCHR (2016) “Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism”, Human Rights Council, 31st Session. Available at: http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/UN%20Report%20-%20Enjoym...
OHCHR (2013) “Technical cooperation for the prevention of attacks against persons with albinism”, Human Rights Council, 21/33. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/AdvisoryCom/A_HRC_RES_...