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The United Nations’ top human rights official has condemned a series of attacks on people with Albinism in Tanzania, saying more must be done to prevent the recurring problem.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has condemned the latest four attacks on people with albinism, which took place during a 16 day period. Once of the attacks was the attempted murder and dismemberment of a baby.

Albinism is a congenital disorder where the skin, hair and eyes lack melanin pigmentation, which protects from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

It is thought the attacks are motivated by a huge demand for albino body parts by Tanzanian witchdoctors, who use them in good-luck charms.

According to BBC news, the victims were Lugolola Bunzari, seven, who was murdered in his village on the 31st January; Maria Chambanenge, 39, while she slept on 11th February; and Mwigulu Matonange, ten, while he walked home from school on 16th February.

Armed men also attacked seven month old Makunga Baraka on 5th February, though villagers chased them away before surrounding his house to protect him. Makunga and his mother were taken to the police station the next morning and given temporary sanctuary.

Describing the acts as “abhorrent”, Ms. Pillay said:

“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks, which were committed in particularly horrifying circumstances, and which have involved dismembering people, including children, while they are still alive,” she said.

“The Tanzanian authorities have the primary responsibility to protect people with albinism, and to fight against impunity, which is a key component for prevention and deterrence of the crimes targeting this exceptionally vulnerable community,” she added.

She also linked the attacks to demands for body parts by witchdoctors. The belief that charms that include albino body parts have magical properties that bring wealth, success and good fortune is very attractive in a developing country such as Tanzania. Many of those who request such charms are from poor communities, reliant on fishing or mining.

Traditional Tanzanian myths have falsely accused albinism of being a family curse; old women in particular were accused of witchcraft because of their white skin and red eyes.

Such prejudices have made it easier for albinos to be demonised and deindividualised. Deindividualisation extirpates a person’s human qualities, making it easier to ostracise, attack and even murder albinos. Belief in such popular myths helps to deindividualise people. It does not excuse the crime, but it provides an insight into the psychology of evil. Similar myths, such as the victim’s screams can make an amulet more powerful, are thought to be a motivation in keeping the individual alive during the process of dismemberment.

These four attacks are the most recent cases. Tanzania has had continual problems with albino persecution in the past. In 2007, the Tanzanian Albino Society – which has 8,000 registered members – accused the government of inactivity after four people were killed in three months. Though President Jakaya Kikwete eventually condemned the killings and spoke out in favour of albinos, the number of albinos killed had risen to 26 by July.

While 72 albinos have been killed since the year 2000, there have only been five convictions, the first in 2009. The problem is so rife, albino graves now have to be filled with concrete to prevent graverobbing.

Though arrests have been made in the cases of Mwigulu Matonange and Maria Chambanenge, There have been no arrests in the cases of Makunga Baraka or Lugolola Bunzari. More disturbing still is that Maria’s husband is rumoured to be among the attackers. This has caused speculation that inequality may have been a motive in the mutilation.

Horrific attacks have continued despite promises for change. International pressure and education through organisations such as the Tanzanian Albino Society are the only hope of dispelling the myths that still keep albinos in the dark.

BY: Matthew Jones