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United Nations: Rights Expert Reports on Problems of Albinos

(Apr. 1, 2016) The United Nation’s first independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, who was appointed in June 2015, has submitted her initial report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The report describes increasing violence against those with albinism, who are reportedly hunted, murdered, and dismembered for witchcraft purposes, due to the belief by some that they are inhuman ghosts and that their body parts are useful in making effective potions and spells. Albinism is a rare, inherited condition that causes the skin to lack pigment. (Brittany Felder, UN Rights Expert: People with Albinism Facing Attacks over “Witchcraft” Beliefs, PAPER CHASE (Mar. 22, 2016); Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website (last visited Mar. 23, 2016); U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, A/HRC/31/63 (Jan. 18, 2016), available at REFWORLD.)

Ero stated that attacks are fed by “dangerous myths” and that in addition to vicious attacks on living albino individuals, sometimes graves are desecrated. In the months since she was appointed, 40 attacks have been reported from seven countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, but due to the fact that the violence often occurs in secret rituals in rural areas and may even involve relatives of the victims, Ero suggests that many cases are never reported. (Witchcraft’ Beliefs Trigger Attacks Against People with Albinism, UN Expert Warns, UN NEWS CENTRE (Mar. 22, 2016); UN Report Criticizes Surge in Attacks on People with Albinism in Africa, DW (Mar. 22, 2016).)

The U.N. OHCHR has pointed out that there is now “a lucrative and macabre market” in the body parts of people with albinism, with prices reportedly varying from $2,000 for a single limb to $75,000 for a full corpse. Children apparently make up a large portion of the victims, due to the belief that their innocence gives their body parts more potency. (‘Witchcraft’ Beliefs Trigger Attacks Against People with Albinism, UN Expert Warns, supra.)

The recent report is not the first notice the United Nations has taken of the plight of those with albinism. In May 2015, the U.N. OHCHR launched a website designed to discredit myths about albinism and advocate for legal and practical steps to protecting individuals with the rare condition. (Constance Johnson, United Nations: Website Seeks to Address Discrimination Against People with Albinism, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 12, 2015).)

Plans to Address the Issue

Ero’s report includes a plan to end the attacks. She said that it “will include careful understanding, definition and delineation of witchcraft practice, the form it takes and the effects it has on persons with albinism.” Eros further stated:

Effective measures to end attacks will include plans to fast track immediate investigation of allegations and prosecution of alleged perpetrators; appropriate legal, social, psychological and medical remedy and redress for victims; actions to prevent trafficking in body parts, as well as measures for the safe re-integration of displaced persons with albinism. (‘Witchcraft’ Beliefs Trigger Attacks Against People with Albinism, UN Expert Warns, supra.)

Ero has also suggested that the issue of the treatment of those with albinism could be addressed under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which defines racial discrimination as being based on any of five different grounds, including color. (Id.; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (open for signature Dec. 21, 1965, in force from Jan. 4, 1969), art. 1, OHCHR website.)