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Tanzania; United Nations: Protection Needed for Albinos

(Sept. 8, 2014) On August 25, 2014, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) questioned the method adopted by the Government of Tanzania to protect children with albinism. The government has placed children with the condition in state-run care centers, to protect them from being targeted by those who believe that their body parts have value in bringing wealth and curing illnesses. These widespread ideas make albinos, both children and adults, vulnerable to brutal attacks. The United Nations is now considering whether placing these children in the centers, sometimes forcibly, amounts to segregation. (Taylor Gillan, More Protection Needed for Tanzania Albinos: UN Rights Office, PAPER CHASE (Aug. 26, 2014).)

According to Alicia Londono of the OHCHR, placing children with albinism in the centers “was a protective measure, and welcome at the beginning. … But the conditions are appalling. They are overcrowded, hygiene conditions are very poor.” (UN Expert Condemns “Appalling” Abuse of Tanzania Albinos, AFP (Aug. 25, 2014).) She also said that there have been cases of sexual abuse at the centers. Londono stressed that often the children lose contact with their families once sent to the centers. She added that closing the centers is not the answer, as that would put the children at risk from traffickers. Instead, she advocates the improvement of the centers and of the treatment of albinos in general, stating, “they are really a neglected population, they are not considered in many places as human beings.” (Id.) In the last year attacks on those with albinism have grown, resulting in renewed U.N. interest in their plight. (Gillan, supra.)

Background

Albinism is a genetic condition in which the skin lacks pigment. In Tanzania, albinos are sometimes called ghosts or “zero zero.” (John Heilprin, UN: Children with Albinism Segregated in Tanzania, ABC NEWS (Aug. 25, 2014).)

According to Anseleme Katyunguruza, the Secretary General of the Burundi Red Cross, an increase in “albino hunting” began in 2008, with demand largely from Tanzania. Katyunguruza stated, “[i]n 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.” (Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu, Defending Albinos’ Rights to Life, IFRC.ORG (June 8, 2009).)

The international community has taken an interest in the treatment of albinos in East Africa for a number of years. In 2009, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies noted that 60 albinos had been killed in Burundi and Tanzania within a few months and that 11 people in Burundi were being tried for their role in the murders of albino individuals and the sale of their body parts. (Id.) Since 2000, at least 73 people with albinism have been attacked and killed in Tanzania alone. (UN Rights Chief Calls for Greater Protection for Albinos After Barbaric Killing in Tanzania, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 15, 2014).)

UN Actions on Albinos’ Human Rights

In 2013, the 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.)

The Advisory Committee report is due by the time of the 28th Human Rights Council meeting, scheduled for March 2015. As a step in the preparation of the report, the Committee established a drafting group in February of 2014. (Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, Albinism, OHCHR website (last visited Aug. 28, 2014).)