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UN: Attacks Against Albinos for Body Parts, Stands Human Rights Issue

An albino holds a placard during an Albinism awareness campaign in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 18, 2016

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An albino holds a placard during an Albinism awareness campaign in Harare Source: Pixabay

Geneva, September 21, 2017: “When I was sleeping in my house, four people came and started attacking me with machetes,” said Mariama Staford, an albino in Tanzania. “One of those four people was a neighbor, and he is the one who took the machete and was cutting my arms.”

Staford was 25 years old when she was attacked in 2008. She told VOA that her neighbor first cut off her right arm and threw it to his accomplices. Then, “he chopped off my left arm.”

“I tried my best to struggle in order to defend myself,” she said, “but it was not successful and so they pulled me down in front of my son, who at that time was only two years old.”

She said it took seven hours before villagers carried her on a stretcher to a dispensary.

“When I reached there, the doctor who was on duty said that I should be returned home because I was already dead,” Staford said.

U.N. action

Two years ago, in an effort to counter such attacks, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed Ikponwosa Ero as the first U.N. independent expert on human rights of persons with albinism.

The U.N.'s independent expert on human rights and albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, addresses a news conference at the end of her official visit to Malawi on April 29, 2016.
UN: Attacks Against Albinos for Body Parts, Stands Human Rights Issues

FILE – The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights and albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, addresses a news conference at the end of her official visit to Malawi on April 29, 2016.

Ero, of Nigeria, also has albinism — an inherited condition that affects the pigment of the skin and hair. She said attacks, mutilation and murders occur because of the false belief that albino body parts can bring wealth and good luck.

Ero told VOA that she has documented close to 800 cases of attacks against albinos in the past decade in sub-Saharan Africa, where such witchcraft-related violence is most common.

“Those are reported cases alone. Most cases are not reported because most cases involve family members or people known to the victim,” Ero said.

She said the practice thrives because there is a lot of money to be made.

“The Red Cross reported that the body parts were valued on the black market. Like an arm was valued at $2,000, and a complete corpse at about $75,000. So, there are profits to be made even though you do not believe in witchcraft,” she said.

Though it is the witch doctors who drive this trade, they rarely are brought to justice. Ero said there were very few witch doctors among the prisoners she met during two visits last year to Malawi and Mozambique to assess the situation of people with albinism.

ALSO READ: The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings.

“Societies are afraid of them,” Ero said. “The police are afraid of them. So, those are usually not prosecuted.

“And then the people on the high scale who are going to pay the money are usually not in jail because they are the elite. Who you find in jail are poor farmers, poor peddlers who are offered a lot of money.”

Staford’s story

No one has paid for the crime committed against Mariama Staford.

“My case reached the trials, and the neighbor that I knew for 10 years was released,” she said. “The court said that because I have albinism, I have low vision, so I could not have recognized my neighbor chopping off my arms.”

Staford has suffered other repercussions, as well. When the attack occurred, she was six months pregnant. She lost her baby.

She told VOA she also must live with the suffering of her son who, as a two-year-old child, was forced to witness the horrific attack against his mother.

“It saddens me to know that, as a mother, I was unable to take care of him, just like a mother would do — even embrace him after the attack,” Staford said. “But also, he is a sad person and he always remembers what happened.”

Staford said there should be stringent laws against any person who attacks people with albinism. She also would like to see the government take away licenses to practice from witch doctors.

Staford and her son, who does not have albinism, as well as two siblings — who do have the condition — are living in protective custody in a safe house in Tanzania run by a branch of a Canadian-U.S. charitable organization called Under the Same Sun. (VOA)

Next Story

Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind

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United Nations special rapporteur on the rights situation in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a press conference following his report on the country to the Human Rights Council, March 12, 2018 in Geneva. A year later, little has changed. (VOA)

Despite more than a year of international engagement and promises of economic reform by North Korea’s leaders, the human rights situation in the isolated country remains dire, a top U.N. rights official said Friday.

Blocked by the government from visiting North Korea, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea Tomas Quintana visited South Korea this week as part of an investigation that will be provided to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a factory in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, Aug. 7, 2018. (VOA)

Noting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has embarked on an effort to improve living conditions by focusing on economic development, Quintana said his preliminary findings showed those efforts had not translated into improvements in the lives of most people.

“The fact is, that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the last year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged, and continues to be extremely serious,” he told reporters at a briefing in Seoul.

“In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind,” Quintana added.

North Korea, Humaqn Rights
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018.

Left out of talks

North Korea denies human rights abuses and says the issue is used by the international community as a political ploy to isolate it.

Human rights were noticeably absent from talks between Kim and the leaders of South Korea and the United States last year, over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But in December, the United States imposed sanctions on an additional three North Korean officials, including a top aide to Kim, for serious rights abuses and censorship.

North Korea’s foreign ministry warned in a statement after the December sanctions were announced, that the measures could lead to a return to “exchanges of fire” and North Korea’s disarming could be blocked forever.

Kim acknowledgement

While noting he had “no specific information” on whether international sanctions were hurting ordinary North Koreans, Quintana said the sanctions targeted the economy as a whole and “raised questions” about the possible impact on the public.

He cited a reference by Kim in his new year message to the need to improve living standards, saying it was a rare acknowledgement of the economic and social hardships faced by many North Koreans.

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Still, the United Nations has confirmed the continued use of political prison camps housing “thousands” of inmates, Quintana said, quoting one source as saying “the whole country is a prison.”

He said witnesses who recently left North Korea reported facing widespread discrimination, labor exploitation and corruption in daily life.

There is also a “continuing pattern of ill-treatment and torture” of defectors who escaped to China only to be returned to North Korea by Chinese authorities, Quintana said. (VOA)