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Attacks Against Persons with Albinism - Who are the Masterminds?

Author: United Nations (UN) : Contact: UN

Published: 2016-09-02

Synopsis and Key Points:

Despite successes in tackling crimes against persons with albinism in Mozambique, authorities are yet to identify and arrest the masterminds behind such crimes.

Main Digest

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, today said that despite all the successes in tackling crimes against persons with albinism in Mozambique, their situation remains precarious as the authorities are yet to identify and arrest the masterminds behind such crimes.

Albinism - In humans Albinism is defined as a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin. It is the opposite of melanism. Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus, and amblyopia. Lack of skin pigmentation makes for more susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers. As there is no cure for albinism, it is managed through lifestyle adjustments. People with albinism need to take care not to sunburn and should have regular healthy skin checks by a dermatologist.

Mozambique - A country in Southeast Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest. It is separated from Madagascar by the Mozambique Channel to the east. The capital and largest city is Maputo.

"It is believed that the masterminds operate in a secretive but powerful cross-border network akin to that of drug barons. To date, none of them have been caught or prosecuted and perceived networks are yet to be identified," the Expert said at the end of her official visit to Mozambique.

The Expert also warned that "while there is a belief that the masterminds are from outside Mozambique, there are insufficient facts supporting this assertion. Care should be taken in making such inferences to avoid stoking xenophobic sentiments, particularly against the refugees and migrants that Mozambique is welcoming."

Ero added that the vast majority of perpetrators who have been prosecuted are nationals of Mozambique.

During her visit to Mozambique, Ero went to Maputo, Nampula and Beira and met with families of victims of attacks, with persons with albinism and their families, and detainees accused of crimes against persons with albinism. She also witnessed an ongoing trial involving the attempted sale of a body part of a person with albinism. She said she was deeply struck by the real fear she sensed among people with albinism.

"People with albinism, from cradle to grave, are hunted and their body parts are wanted - everything from their heads to their toes, their hair, their nails and even their faeces are collected," she said. "Real fear therefore exists among persons with albinism across the country, particularly in provinces with reported attacks."

Ero commended the Government's response so far to the crisis faced by persons with albinism, welcoming in particular the Multi-Sectorial Plan of Action to address attacks, and the use of pre-existing mechanisms such as reference groups. She added that the country appeared to have the highest number of cases that have been prosecuted on this matter in the region, and welcomed the fact that its legislation punishes "not only trafficking in persons and organs but also trafficking of body parts."

However, she warned that the Plan of Action needed to be fully and scrupulously implemented for it to have a lasting impact.

The Expert also highlighted long-standing discrimination against people with albinism "including spitting on the floor after seeing a person with albinism to avoid having children with albinism, and refusing to shake hands with or touch persons with albinism to avoid perceived contagion."

Another area of concern was the role of traditional healers, she said.

"While traditional healers play a crucial role in providing health and other related services to citizens, it is often not clear whose practice is purely in the area of traditional medicine and which ones dabble in witchcraft and other practices which could lead to harm against persons with albinism," the Expert said, calling for enhanced oversight for traditional medicine practitioners.

The Expert said she was also surprised by the lack of awareness of existing programs and services provided by the Government. Persons with albinism, civil society organizations, but also state officials, were often not aware of health services – albeit limited, nor were they aware of the mandated quota of five per cent employment for persons with disabilities within the public sector, or of the Multi-Sectorial Plan of Action.

"The UN Sustainable Development Goals have a key objective to leave no one behind. This certainly means leaving no person with albinism behind. I hope the momentum achieved by Mozambique will continue, to protect the rights of people with albinism, even in the face of economic and political challenges," she said.

The Independent Expert, in Mozambique from 21 August to 3 September, will produce a full report, with recommendations, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.

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