Malawi: Killing spree of people with albinism fuelled by ritual practices and policing failures

© LAWILINK/Amnesty International
June 7, 2016

Malawi: Killing spree of people with albinism fuelled by ritual practices and policing failures

At least five people who were abducted are still missing. Two-year-old Iblah Pilo, was abducted at night in January 2015. His mother woke up to the cry of the child but could not save him. His great aunt told Amnesty International: “We are worried that we do not know where Iblah is or where to find his grave. We want the truth to come out. This child must be the last to go missing.”

Even the dead are not left in peace with the Malawi Police Service recording at least 39 cases of illegal exhumation of the bodies of people with albinism or of people in possession of bones and other body parts taken from corpses. Amnesty International is concerned that some of these cases may in fact be cases of actual killings rather than mere grave robberies.

“Malawians need to reflect on a fresh understanding of the hardships experienced by this vulnerable group and ensure that people with albinism are accepted,” said Boniface Massah, Director of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi.

Systematic failure of policing

According to the Malawi Police Service, at least 69 crimes against people with albinism have been documented since November 2014. However Amnesty International has found that the police lack adequate training and skills needed to investigate such crimes.

The Malawi Police Service lacks resources, such as transport, to respond in a timely way to reported crimes and maintain visible policing in districts reporting high numbers of attacks.

In addition, there are fears that some police officers carry the same prejudices against people with albinism that exists within the wider Malawian society and fail to take human rights abuses against people with albinism seriously.

The Director of Public Prosecutions admitted to Amnesty International that the police prosecutors do not know all the relevant laws to deal with crimes against people with albinism.

There has been one case where the public took the law into their own hands and resorted to mob violence against suspected perpetrators. In March 2016 a mob burnt to death seven men in the Nsanje district bordering Mozambique after being suspected of trafficking body parts of people with albinism.

The authorities must take immediate steps to prevent, and publicly condemn mob justice attacks, as well as ensure that incidents of mob justice attacks are promptly, thoroughly, impartially and transparently investigated and that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice.

Living in fear

The increase in attacks and widespread discrimination coupled with ineffective policing has meant that many of Malawi’s population of between 7,000 and 10,000 people with albinism live in constant fear.

One woman told Amnesty International that the attacks have changed her life. “When I was growing up I believed that I could do anything. Now I am very sensitive. I cannot take a lift from strangers. In the past I was moving about without fear. After 5:30pm I have to go home. I don’t feel safe.”

One 37-year-old man told Amnesty International: “People tell me in my face that they will sell me. One time someone said I was worth MK6 million (US$10,000). I felt pained by the remarks that a price tag can be put on me.”

Exclusion and abuse within their own villages and communities is also a problem for people with albinism who are called names and threatened. Women with albinism are called Machilitso (cure) – feeding into the belief that having sex with a person with albinism can cure HIV.One woman told Amnesty International: “Without being brave you may end up throwing away the child because of the abuse and insults.”Amnesty International is calling on the government of Malawi to adopt specific measures to protect the rights to life and security of people with albinism by providing increased levels of visible policing in rural districts and taking action when attacks against this population group occur.