On January 28, the mutilated body of a 53-year-old albino Eunice Phiri, was found in the Kasungu National Park, Malawi. Her arms had been cut off – a practice common with ritual murders where people with albinism are killed for their body parts which are sold for use in witchcraft. According to a Red Cross report, witchdoctors will pay as much as $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts to make spells and charms they claim bring luck, love and wealth. While the Tanzanian police has heightened security for albinos in the East African country, Malawi’s ‘shoot at sighting anyone attacking albinos’ policy has not stopped the killing of those with the congenital disorder. Amnesty International is worried.
“It is deeply worrying that there’s poor security for people with albinism in Malawi despite an increasing number of attacks against them,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
“The government’s human rights obligations require them to protect everyone’s right to life. They must ensure that the police have the resources to protect those at risk of attacks.”
A statement by the human rights group stressed the need for the investigation of the crimes against albinos, asking that those suspected of responsibility be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.
Amnesty International noted that 45 incidents including killings and attempted killings, and abductions and attempted abductions, as well as opening of the graves of people with albinism were reported by activists in Malawi in 2015, with some of those who were abducted never seen again.
With a sharp increase in attacks against people with albinism in 2015, children were withdrawn from schools by their families fearing attacks. The situation is similar in Tanzania — despite efforts to end the attacks — where children are too scared to attend school.
In November 2015, Amnesty International researchers met people with albinism and their families who described how they live in constant fear of attacks and abuses. Some had to move from rural to urban areas for their own safety.
Muchena called on the Malawian government to take urgent action to protect people with albinism and address the root cause of the violence and discrimination they suffer.
Superstitions and harmful cultural beliefs which fuel the attacks must be tackled head-on. But it is going to be very hard as it has eaten too deep into the Malawian society, so much that family members attack one another. According to the police, Eunice Phiri was tricked by three men, including her brother, into accompanying them on a trip to Zambia through the Kasungu National Park where she was killed.
Last year, local reports quoted Malawi’s Inspector General of Police Lexen Kachama to have instructed police to shoot any “dangerous criminals” caught abducting albinos.
“Shoot every criminal who is violent when caught red-handed abducting people with albinism,” Kachama was quoted to have said, adding; “We cannot just watch while our friends with albinism are being killed like animals every day. We do realize that these people are ruthless, have no mercy and therefore they need to be treated just like that.”