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Malawi: UN experts urge action over albinism ‘atrocities’ in run-up to elections

GENEVA (8 February 2019) – The Government of Malawi must take immediate action to protect people with albinism after the killing of one person and the separate abduction of a one-year-old baby, say UN experts*. Since 2014, 150 cases of killings, attacks and other human rights violations against persons with albinism have been reported in Malawi.

“We urge the authorities to step up their investigations into these incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the experts said.

“We call on the Government to urgently address the root causes of these attacks and to strengthen nationwide campaigns to raise awareness, conduct robust investigations and prosecutions in all cases, increase protection for victims, and finance and implement all necessary measures,” they stressed.

“Despite various steps to support people with albinism, the recent attacks demonstrate that the Government needs to redouble its efforts to end the ongoing atrocities,” the experts said.

The attacks come as the people of Malawi prepare for national elections scheduled for May 2019. The UN experts are alarmed that the situation could be made worse by the impending polls.

“Election periods can be a dangerous time for persons with albinism as this is when killings and attacks often spike, because of false beliefs that their body parts can bring good luck and political power when used in witchcraft-related rituals,” the experts said.

“Harmful practices related to witchcraft result in serious human rights violations, such as torture, murder, discrimination and exclusion, including banishment from communities,” they emphasized.

“These two incidents are part of a larger disturbing pattern in Malawi where ritual killings and egregious human rights violations of the worst kind are instigated specifically against persons with albinism. The attacks and violations are astonishing in their brutality.”

The threats and attacks have severely affected the physical and mental integrity of persons with albinism. “We call on the authorities to ensure the deployment of adequate police and law enforcement personnel to protect persons with albinism where they live.”

The pattern of attacks prompted the Independent Expert on albinism, to reiterate the need to tackle the concrete recommendations she made, following her visit to the country in 2016.

The experts further express concern at the reported backlog of cases of human rights violations and crimes against persons with albinism, as to date, there have been very few prosecutions, particularly those relating to more serious criminal charges, which gives an impression of impunity.


(*) The UN experts: Ms Ikponwosa Ero (Nigeria), Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Ms Catalina Devandas (Costa Rica),Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities;; Ms Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland), Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the report from the IE albinism country visit to Malawi.

UN Human Rights, country page – Malawi

For more information and media requests, please contact: Jolene Tautakitaki (jtautakitaki@ohchr.org / tel. +4122 917 93 63) or Alice Ochsenbein (aochsenbein@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 98 32)

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