Combat dangerous myths and poverty to end attacks against people with albinism, says UN expert: Madagascar

OHCHR

A UN expert has called for urgent action to combat attacks against persons with albinism including murders and mutilations, which are spiking in Madagascar as dangerous myths and poverty persist. Babies and children remain prime targets among a doubling of attacks this year.

“False beliefs, myths and superstitions that the eyes of people with albinism can bring good luck and wealth have triggered attacks mostly targeting children in the south of the country, where poverty is rife,” said the Independent Expert on albinism, Muluka-Anne Miti-Drummond.

“People with albinism, in the most remote areas in this region, live in perpetual fear and have resorted to taking their children and leaving them in local police and gendarmerie stations for protection.”

The Government should launch nationwide campaigns to educate and raise awareness to tackle false beliefs, myths, superstitions and ignorance about albinism.

Between 2020 and 2022, police and the gendarmerie reported around 45 cases that include abductions, mutilations, and murders. Attacks in 2022 have doubled compared to 2021, with four attacks recorded in one month. Victims have included a nine-month-old baby.

“Another attack was reported to me just a few days ago, underscoring the need for immediate, robust protection for people with albinism, particularly in remote regions, where poverty is rife,” Miti-Drummond said in a statement after a recent 10-day official visit to the country.

The expert visited impoverished communities in Fort Dauphin, Ambovombe and Amoboasary. She said the south has been worst-hit by climate change and has suffered from droughts, cyclones, severe food shortage and insecurity caused by dahalos, or cattle thieves.

“COVID-19 has further compounded poverty and this has given fertile ground for dangerous myths to spread and manifest in attacks and other harmful practices in the vain hope of obtaining wealth,” Miti-Drummond said. “Attacks are also said to increase before elections, and I urge vigilance in light of the pending elections next year.”

The expert was also concerned about the low level of convictions. “I am aware of only two convictions in the cases that I received and none for the most egregious crimes such as mutilations and murders. “Perpetrators must be brought to justice to avoid perceptions of impunity that can lead to mob justice.”

Many people with albinism are prevented from obtaining gainful employment and accessing adequate education due to stigma and discrimination. Accessing sunscreen as a life-saving product is also too expensive for many.

The expert commended the creation of a high-level technical committee on albinism which aims to develop a national action plan. A countrywide study and analysis of people with albinism is also planned.

Miti-Drummond will submit a comprehensive report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in March 2023.

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