Monday, June 8, 2009

Defending albinos' rights to life

This document has been forwarded from the ReliefWeb site.

Sender: Ms. Kathy

Comment from Ms. Kathy:

Source: IFRC

Date: 08 Jun 2009

By Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu in Nairobi

Superstition has led to the killing of

more than 60 albinos in Burundi and

Tanzania. The Red Cross Red Crescent is

backing government efforts to protect

them, and defends their right to a life in


As the trial of 11 Burundians accused of

involvement in the killing of albinos and

the selling of their body parts continues

in Ruyigi, the Red Cross Red Crescent has

made the protection of the most vulnerable

and promotion of respect for humanitarian

values like non-discrimination and respect

for diversity its highest priority.

More than 60 lives were lost in a recent

spate of albino killings in Eastern


"The killings of albinos must stop and

their dignity restored," says Anseleme

Katyunguruza, Secretary General of the

Burundi Red Cross, which is providing

humanitarian aid to 48 albino children and

adults sheltered by authorities in the

township of Ruyigi.

At least 12 albinos have been murdered in

Burundi and 50 in Tanzania during the past

few months. Although some 200 people were

arrested last year on suspicion of murder

in Tanzania, none have been convicted. In

Burundi last November, however, two men

were jailed for life for killing albinos.

Greed, superstition and murder

Katyunguruza talks about a "phenomenon of

albino hunting" that started in August

last year. The demand came from

neighbouring Tanzania and is closely

linked to the economic boom in the fishing

and gold mining industries along the

shores of the Lake Victoria.

This has turned into a deadly business,

with killers reportedly being paid between

200 and 5,000 US dollars for their

crime."In search for profit, witch doctors

revived an old superstition that the limbs

and genitals of an albino can bring

quicker and better results to one's

enterprise. We are condemning and fighting

this horrible form of discrimination," he


Red Cross volunteers have been helping the

bereaved families with the burials of the

mutilated bodies of family members. Things

are so serious that volunteers often have

to pour concrete over the tombs to prevent

albino corpses from being exhumed at night

by people in search of the 'magical


Family betrayal

Many volunteers have taken the risk of

sheltering in their own houses people with

albinism, some of whom have even been

threatened by members of their own

families. Red Cross volunteers are driven

by a firm commitment to respect human

dignity and protect people from suffering

and violence. The Red Cross strongly

believes that all humans are equal and are

not to be discriminated on the basis of

criteria such as race, gender or living

with albinism.

"We are two albinos in our family - my

younger brother and I. One day our older

brother came back from Tanzania with

strangers. At nightfall, they hovered

around our house as they watched us. Then

they caught my brother and killed him,"

one albino child, on the verge of tears,

told a Burundi Red Cross volunteer.

His dead brother's body parts were then

sold off for 300,000 Burundian francs

(about 250 US dollars). "We alerted the

police, even though we were threatened.

The authorities arrested [our older

brother] but, for some reason, he was

released shortly after. Now he is in

hiding in Tanzania," he added.

The areas worst affected are the communes

of Bweru, Nyabitsinda, Kinyinya, Gisuru,

Butaganzwa around the town of Ruyigi, not

far from the Tanzanian border. The

killings occur regularly in Tanzania as

well. The body parts are at high demand

among miners and fisherman around the Lake

Victoria regions of Mwanza, Shinyanga,

Kigoma and Mara.

Red Cross protection and assistance

Authorities in both countries have offered

protection to dozens of albinos in

shelters safeguarded constantly by the

police. In Ruyigi, there is tight security

at the shelters where the Red Cross is

distributing food, digging latrines and

providing other essential services.

"We have collected money and take turns to

visit our (albino) fellow Burundians. We

bring beer and share it with them since

this is sign of acceptance and

solidarity," says one volunteer, adding

that the Red Cross also encourages

communities to help vulnerable albinos

returning home by reconstructing houses

and labouring their fields.

Activities encouraging respect for

humanitarian principles and values have

intensified in communities across the

affected areas. Further assistance

includes advocacy with local authorities

in order to sensitize them to the plight

of the albino. Schools have also been

approached to ensure that albino children

can continue their studies in the town of

Ruyigi and the town's hospital has been

asked to allow free of charge medical care

for albino people in need.

Across the border, the Kabanga public

school for the disabled, near the town of

Kigoma, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika,

provides refuge for some 50 Tanzanian

albino children youngsters and single


Many have just escaped their villages with

their lives and tell harrowing stories of

killing and mutilation.

One small boy talks about his non-albino

mother's hand was severed by albino

hunters armed with machetes after she

tried to prevent them seizing him.

The school has now completely run out of

space, but vulnerable albinos are still

being brought in by the police from as far

as 200 kilometres away.

The Tanzanian Red Cross has been able to

provide sunblock cream as well as

blankets, mosquito nets, soap and

mattresses left over from its programme to

assist Burundian and Congolese refugees in

camps nearby, including personal

contributions from volunteers.

Changing minds, saving lives

While eagerly waiting to hear about the

outcome of the Ruyigi trial, some

displaced people with albinism are already

thinking of returning to their villages.

When the time is right, Red Cross

volunteers will accompany them every step

of the way and ensure that additional

discussions aimed at stemming

discrimination are being organized.

A series of training sessions focusing on

the reintegration of albinos into their

communities has already taken place and

volunteers have tested not only the

acceptance but also the readiness of

communities to protect those who decide to


"The results were satisfactory but

communities remain divided over the

issue," says Evariste Nhimirimana of the

Burundi Red Cross. "We need to continue

our work … we cannot expect that

superstitions will be easily eradicated."

The Red Cross plans to use cultural

gatherings to explain to the most

suspicious that there is nothing

supernatural about albinism; that in fact

it is a health condition that cannot

entirely be treated. Focusing on dropping

bias, critical thinking and non-violent

communication will be key to influence

behavioural change in the community.

Nshimirimana's concerns are echoed by his

Tanzanian colleague Julius Kejo, who says:

"We need to change minds in order to save


Case study: Claiming back dignity

In Tanzania's Pwani village, one man with

albinism is making history. Driven by a

passion to help disabled people in his

society, Hamis Ngomella took on special

education training in a college and

graduated as a teacher of children with

special needs. He is among the few in his

village to make it to college.

Hamis is the chairman of the albino

association and represents the Red Cross

in a regional disaster management


The 40-year-old is one of the 170,000

people living with albinism in Tanzania.

But Hamis refuses to live in fear. The

second born in a family of three, he is

the only albino, and feels lucky to be

accepted and loved by his parents and


"When I was born, my mother tells me that

the traditional midwife made a grimace

when she saw me. No one welcomed the

arrival of a strange baby. But my mother

protected and kept me," he says.

Hamis faced constant discrimination

throughout his childhood: society didn't

accept him and schoolmates called him

names like "Mzungu" which means "white

man" in Swahili. Some people even

suspected his mother of having slept with

white people, as if this was a shame.

"Disability is simply our own invention -

the hardship, things difficult to

understand. Is a socio-political issue

rather than a matter of health," Hamis

told his colleague Stella Marialle.

"We need to claim back our dignity," he


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the

documents carried by the ReliefWeb site

are those of the authors and are not

necessarily shared by UN OCHA or the

ReliefWeb secretariat. Inclusion of links

to sites outside the United Nations does

not imply endorsement of the contents of

those sites. Any user comments added to

forwarded Email messages are those of the

comment authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.