Worldwide human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has accused Malawi of burying its head in the sand while about 18 people with albinism have been killed and at least five abducted and remain missing since November 2014.
But Malawi government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati said yesterday Capital Hill has taken aggressive steps to combat the violent crimes against people living with albinism, describing the report as an unfair assessment.
AI has expressed its concern in a report released today titled “We Are Not Animals to be Hunted or Sold: Violence and Discrimination Against People with Albinism in Malawi”.
The report notes the increasing wave of attacks against people with albinism over the last two years, with four people, including a baby, murdered in April this year alone.
The report says attacks on people with albinism, whose body parts are believed to be used in ritual practices, has exposed a systematic failure of Malawi’s policing and left the vulnerable group in fear.
“The time has come for the Government of Malawi to stop burying its head in the sand and pretending that this problem will just go away,” said Deprose Muchena, AI director for southern Africa, in reaction to the findings in the report. “Talking will not end these attacks. Concrete action is urgently required.”
However, Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati has defended government and the police, saying enough has been done to address the matter.
She said: “We are a democratic government and we cannot just impose capital punishment on those that have been found killing albinos. We cannot act without letting our Parliament change the laws because at the end of the day they [Amnesty International] will be dragging us to the ICC [International Criminal Court].”
Kaliati, who is also the official government spokesperson, said government was committed to providing total protection to people with albinism and that the Judiciary had already ordered witch doctors to stop operating.
She said the police are also doing their job by arresting the perpetrators; hence, she said, it is not affair for the report to say otherwise about the efforts Malawi.
The report claims that bones of the murdered albino people are believed to be sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck. The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that bones of people with albinism contain gold.
AI adds that it believes the actual number of people with albinism killed is likely to be much higher due to the fact that many secretive rituals in rural areas are never reported.
Apart from the extreme forms of violence, the report also finds that people with albinism in Malawi experience widespread societal discrimination, including verbal abuse and exclusion from accessing basic public services.
The bloodiest month recorded by AI was April 2016 when four people with albinism were murdered.
It then includes the case of a small girl (name withheld) under two years old who was snatched while sleeping with her mother in their home.
Pieces of her skull, some teeth and clothing were found days later on a nearby hill. Five men, including the child’s father, were arrested on suspicion that they had been involved in her murder.
AI says interviews it conducted at the time of the investigation established that most people who attack people with albinism are close relatives.
The report says even the dead are not left in peace with Malawi Police Service (MPS) 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.
The report also quotes Boniface Massah, president of Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam), who says Malawians need to reflect on a fresh understanding of the hardships experienced by this vulnerable group and ensure that people with albinism are accepted.
The report also quotes Director of Public Prosecutions Mary Kachale as admitting that some police prosecutors faced challenges to understand relevant laws to deal with crimes against people with albinism.
In a separate interview yesterday, Massah said Apam worked together with AI on the report and would today release it to the public at a news conference in Lilongwe. He said commenting further would preempt the report which will later be presented to government. n
Additional reporting by MERCY MALIKWA, Staff Reporter