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United Nations: Website Seeks to Address Discrimination Against People with Albinism

(May 12, 2015) On May 5, 2015, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched a website designed to discredit myths about albinism and advocate for legal and practical steps to protect albinos. The website notes that the rare condition is “still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically.” (‘Not Ghosts But Human Beings:’ UN Rights Office Launches Website on Albinism , UN NEWS CENTRE (May 5, 2015).)

According to the website, it is estimated that between 1 in 5,000 and 1 in 15,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone are affected by albinism, while the rate in Europe and North America is about 1 in 20,000. (Albinism, PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM: NOT GHOSTS BUT HUMAN BEINGS, OHCHR website (last visited May 8, 2015).) People with the condition have been the objects of brutal attacks in a number of African countries; in some cases they have been killed due to the belief that their body parts have magical powers. (Joseph Kayira & Sinikka Tarvainen, Albinos ‘Hunted Like Animals’ for Body Parts in Malawi, NEWS 24 (Mar. 3, 2015).)

The website describes the kinds of discrimination faced by people with albinism, including:

  • repudiation by their husbands of women who give birth to albino children;
  • abandonment or killing of children with albinism;
  • discrimination related to the physical disabilities that may co-exist with albinism;
  • belief that such persons may be a source of misfortune;
  • prejudice that makes it difficult for persons with albinism to access health care, social services, legal protection, and redress for abuses they have suffered; and
  • difficulty obtaining education, and thus employment, due to lack of assistance with the vision impairment sometimes associated with their condition. (People with Albinism Face Multiple Forms of Discrimination Worldwide, OHCHR website (last visited May 8, 2015).)

The website goes on to state that the “right to freedom from discrimination requires states to adopt comprehensive strategies to ensure that persons with albinism are afforded equal protection under the law and in practice.” (Id.)

The United Nations has previously addressed the issue of the treatment of those with albinism on a number of occasions, including in 2013, when the U.N. Human Rights Council issued a resolution requesting that its Advisory Committee “prepare a study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism … ” and noting that there was a “need for effective action to combat and eliminate attacks against persons with albinism and to adopt specific measures to protect and preserve the rights to life and to security of persons with albinism, as well as their right not to be subject to torture and ill-treatment … .” (Resolution of the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/RES/24/33, Technical Cooperation for the Prevention of Attacks Against Persons with Albinism (Oct. 8, 2013), OHCHR website.) In 2014, the U.N. raised the issue of the treatment of those with albinism specifically in Tanzania. (Constance Johnson, Tanzania; United Nations: Protection Needed for Albinos, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 8, 2014).)