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Malawi: President Announces Plan to Protect Albinos

(Apr. 2, 2015) On March 19, 2015, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika announced a plan to protect the albinos in the county. There have been 15 cases of albinos abducted and killed across several countries already this year. Albino individuals have long been preyed on in some African nations, including neighboring Tanzania as well as Malawi, due to the belief that body parts of these people have magical powers to bring good luck. (Wanda Gwede, Mutharika Vows to ‘Hunt Down’ Albino Killers, NYASA TIMES (Mar. 20, 2015); Joseph Kayira & Sinikka Tarvainen, Albinos ‘Hunted Like Animals’ for Body Parts in Malawi, NEWS 24 (Mar. 3, 2015); Constance A. Johnson, Tanzania; United Nations: Protection Needed for Albinos, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 8, 2014).)

Mutharika stated, “[w]e have been deeply shocked with these attacks and killing of the people living with albinism. This is inhuman and barbaric and we condemn it in strongest terms.” (Gwede, supra.)

The plan includes a directive to all the security agencies in Malawi to be on high alert, with the goal of arresting and punishing the people who have been carrying out the killings, as well as a request to the judiciary to try suspects in these attacks rapidly. Mutharika added that he has directed the Minister of Internal Affairs, the police inspector general, and all security offices to “provide maximum protection to our brothers and sisters with albinism.” (Id.)

Following the President’s remarks, Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, announced the Ministry’s program of action, including education and awareness efforts and making the community policing structure stronger. (UN Rights Office Welcomes Malawi Leader’s Condemnation of Attacks on People with Albinism, UN NEWS CENTRE (Mar. 27, 2015).)

U.N. Statements on the Issue

Speaking for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville welcomed Muthaika’s statement and said, “[w]e hope that this series of measures will result in a significant improvement in the security and well-being of people with albinism in Malawi.” (Id.) He also mentioned that Kaliati had talked about the possibility of appealing some previously rendered lenient sentences for crimes against albinos. Colville mentioned a case in which a sentence of only two years was given to a man who attempted to kidnap his young niece after being promised $6,500 for her body. (Id.)

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a recent statement of his own, expressed the seriousness of the problem: “[t]hese attacks are often stunningly vicious, with children in particular being targeted.” He added that due to the attacks, “many people with albinism are living in abject fear. Some no longer dare to go outside, and children with albinism have stopped attending school because of the recent spate of assaults, murders and kidnappings.” (Zeid Calls for Action After Surge in “Stunningly Vicious Attacks” on People with Albinism in East Africa, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website (Mar. 10, 2015).) While noting that attacks on people with albinism have been an issue in a number of African countries, the Commissioner stated that “[a]ll over the world, people with albinism continue to suffer from discrimination and social exclusion.” He added that governments should help these people deal with social rejection, medical and psychological problems, and poverty. (Id.)