UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called Thursday for increased protection for people with albinism, after the barbaric murder of a 40-year-old woman with albinism in north-western Tanzania on 12 May.
“This killing and the terrible circumstances surrounding it sadly demonstrate that the human rights situation of people with albinism in Tanzania and other countries, remains dire,” Pillay said.
According to police reports, Munghu Lugata was brutally murdered Monday night at her home in Mwachalala, a village in Simiyu region, north-western Tanzania. Her attackers chopped off her left leg above the knee, two of her fingers and the upper part of her left thumb, apparently while she was still alive.
These attacks, which are often motivated by the use of body parts for ritual purposes, have claimed the lives of at least 73 people with albinism in Tanzania since 2000. Ms Lugata’s murder is the first reported killing of someone with albinism in Tanzania in 2014.
Pillay welcomed the rapid response of the police, who arrested two local witchdoctors on 13 May.
“The fight against impunity is a key component for prevention and deterrence of the crimes targeting this exceptionally vulnerable community,” Pillay said, while noting that victims often face significant difficulties in bringing their cases to justice, fearing retaliatory attacks or further stigmatization. Without effective and affordable access to justice, many cannot claim their rights.
The High Commissioner stressed that States’ obligation to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes is particularly critical due to the vulnerability of people with albinism. States must also ensure access to effective remedies, redress and rehabilitation, including medical and psychological care for survivors and victims’ families.
“All over the world, people with albinism continue to face attacks or suffer terrible discrimination, stigma and social exclusion,” said the High Commissioner. The UN Human Rights Office has received reports of more than 200 cases of attacks against people with albinism in 15 countries between 2000 and 2013, but it is believed the actual number could be much higher.
The High Commissioner also expressed concern about the appalling living conditions in at least of Tanzania’s 13 centres for displaced children and adults with special needs. These centres host hundreds of children with albinism who have been abandoned by their families or have fled their homes out of fear of being attacked or killed. Some are administrated by the Government while others are run by faith-based organizations.
The 13 shelters are overcrowded, with very poor health and hygiene conditions. Many of the children with albinism living there reportedly suffer from skin cancer, partly due to the lack of awareness of the staff about a number of simple steps that can be taken to prevent this disease. Cases of sexual abuse have also been reported in some of these centres. Due to the very limited human and financial resources, teaching and learning materials are reported to be almost non-existent in most of them.
“I urge the Tanzanian authorities to take urgent measures to assess and address the situation in these centres, including allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, and the poor living conditions. The staff working with people with albinism should be trained on their special needs, in particular with regard to basic preventive measures to avoid skin cancer,” Pillay said.
The High Commissioner also called upon the Tanzanian authorities to take urgent concrete measures to protect people with albinism, and to actively engage in the fight against stigma attached to albinism through education and awareness-raising campaigns.