Albinos in Malawi Protest Outside the Presidential Palace
In Malawi, like its neighbor Tanzania, those with albinism are at high risk of being either kidnapped or killed so that their body parts can be sold for witchcraft. Albinism, a condition characterized by a lack of melanin pigment in the skin, hair, and/or eyes, affects around 7,000 to 10,000 people in Malawi, a ratio of 1 in every 1,800 people.
Amnesty International reports that there has been a sharp increase in human rights abuses against people with albinism since November 2014, including killings, abductions, and grave robberies. There are people who believe that the body parts of those with albinism possess magical powers and bring good luck. Women and children are in particular danger of attack because they are easy targets. Moreover, women also face the risk of sexual violence due to the beliefs “that having sex with a person with albinism will cure HIV/AIDS.”
On Wednesday, March 10, 2019, the Malawi police stopped a group of protestors marching towards the presidential palace. The protestors, which includes a group of roughly 200 people with albinism and 500 sympathizers, were later allowed by police to move closer to the palace. The Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) vowed to remain outside the palace until their concerns are addressed by President Peter Mutharika.
According to government sources, when the protest happened, the President was commissioning Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project in the Northern part of the country. The protest is aimed at forcing President Mutharika to take action against these crimes, and it is being done despite the fact that Lilongwe City Council (LCC) told APAM and other civil society organizations (CSOs) involved in the protest that their petition should be delivered to the city’s civic offices and not to the State House.
In response, President Mutharika announced on Friday, March 8 that he appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the most recent spate of attacks, abductions and killings. Retired Supreme Court judge Robert Chinangwa will head that panel which is support to submit a report to the president by April 30th.
In Malawi, human rights groups report that 19 people have been killed in 150 attacks against the group since 2015. According to official statistics, only 30 percent of these attacks have been properly investigated with only 1 murder and 1 attempted murder successfully prosecuted. Overall, 600 cases of violence against people with albinism have occurred throughout Africa with Malawi accounting for roughly a third.