Persons with albinism in Malawi face violence and discrimination of the most condemnable and abhorrent kind. Human rights violations of this severity should be prevented and sanctioned with the most powerful means at our disposal.
In asserting and enforcing human rights, we argue that the means we employ must not only be capable of achieving our ends, but must also be ideologically, morally and legally consistent with our ends. A human rights-approach is vital to Malawi’s campaign to end human rights abuses against persons with albinism.
A recent All-Stakeholder Conference on the Spate of Abductions and Killing of Persons with Albinism, held in Lilongwe, has consolidated a vital impetus in sections of the Malawi society to develop an urgent programme of action to stop killings, abductions and discrimination against persons with albinism.
Delegates have offered solutions that include the review of court cases against perpetrators of abuse, amending laws for special treatment and protections for persons with albinism, coordinating nationwide protests, improving policing resources and combating the lukewarm responses of the public and government.
Certain solutions offered should, nevertheless, be cautiously weighed for their own impact on human rights protections. This includes suggestions relating to capital punishment for abductors.
As pointed out by the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, sentences imposed on persons who abuse, kill and maim persons with albinism appear to be insufficient and disproportionate to the severity of the crimes.
This does not mean, however, that the institution of capital punishment is the appropriate response. In demanding the dignity and respect for human rights that persons with albinism deserve, we must insist on a human rights approach.
The institution of capital punishment is regarded by the UN Human Rights Committee as a violation of the prohibition against cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under human rights law. In addition, no studies have proved capital punishment to be a more effective deterrent against violent crime.
Powerful means are available to combat the crimes and discrimination perpetrated against persons with albinism if one considers comprehensive solutions based in human rights principles.
Ero discusses a number of urgent interventions needed in her statement on Malawi, including legislative and policy reform, appropriate and proportionate criminal justice responses, social and educational initiatives and a coordinated response from government, civil society and development partners met with sufficient funding to sustain ambitious plans.
Malawi can also learn from best practices from other countries in the region. In Kenya, for example, the Constitution provides that at least five percent of members of elected and appointed bodies should be persons with disabilities, which includes persons with albinism.
This has led to the appointment of a few high profile persons with albinism in public offices, including a member of Parliament, a judge of the High Court and two county assembly representatives. The visibility of persons with albinism in such high offices assist in combating the stigma, ignorance and superstition that drives violence and abuse.
Malawi faces a moment for action in the upcoming weeks with delegates from the All-Stakeholder Conference planning a day of protest today and International Albinism Day on 13 June.
The unity of our outrage and action to stop the abuse and dehumanisation of persons with disabilities should be both founded in and armed by human rights values and law. n