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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
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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)

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Should Promote Human Rights More In Myanmar: Facebook

Facebook has roughly 20 million users in Myanmar, according to BSR, which warned Facebook faces several unresolved challenges in Myanmar.

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A cellphone user looks at a Facebook page at a shop in Latha street, Yangon, Myanmar. VOA

Facebook on Monday said a human rights report it commissioned on its presence in Myanmar showed it had not done enough to prevent its social network from being used to incite violence.

The report by San Francisco-based nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) recommended that Facebook more strictly enforce its content policies, increase engagement with both Myanmar officials and civil society groups and regularly release additional data about its progress in the country.

“The report concludes that, prior to this year, we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and should do more,” Alex Warofka, a Facebook product policy manager, said in a blog post.

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A protester wearing a mask with the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in between men wearing angry face emoji masks, is seen during a demonstration against Facebook outside Portcullis in London. VOA

BSR also warned that Facebook must be prepared to handle a likely onslaught of misinformation during Myanmar’s 2020 elections, and new problems as use of its WhatsApp grows in Myanmar, according to the report, which Facebook released.

A Reuters special report in August found that Facebook failed to promptly heed numerous warnings from organizations in Myanmar about social media posts fueling attacks on minority groups such as the Rohingya.

In August 2017 the military led a crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents, pushing more than 700,000 Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. agencies.

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A man from the Rohingya community fills out an identification form provided by local police inside his shop at a camp in New Delhi. VOA

 

The social media website in August removed several Myanmar military officials from the platform to prevent the spread of “hate and misinformation,” for the first time banning a country’s military or political leaders.

It also removed dozens of accounts for engaging in a campaign that “used seemingly independent news and opinion pages to covertly push the messages of the Myanmar military.”

The move came hours after United Nations investigators said the army carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent.”

Facebook said it has begun correcting shortcomings.

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A deforested section of the Chakmakul camp for Rohingya refugees clings to a hillside in southern Bangladesh, Feb. 13, 2018. VOA

Facebook said that it now has 99 Myanmar language specialists reviewing potentially questionable content. In addition, it has expanded use of automated tools to reduce distribution of violent and dehumanizing posts while they undergo review.

Also Read: Video: Orange Rallies in US Honor Victims of Gun Violence

In the third quarter, the company said it “took action” on about 64,000 pieces of content that violated its hate speech policies. About 63 percent were identified by automated software, up from 52 percent in the prior quarter.

Facebook has roughly 20 million users in Myanmar, according to BSR, which warned Facebook faces several unresolved challenges in Myanmar.

BSR said locating staff there, for example, could aid in Facebook’s understanding of how its services are used locally but said its workers could be targeted by the country’s military, which has been accused by the U.N. of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. (VOA)