The killing of a woman with albinism in Malawi highlights the government’s shocking failure to protect the right to life and personal security of this vulnerable minority, said Amnesty International.
The mutilated body of Eunice Phiri, a 53-year-old woman with albinism, was found on 28 January in the Kasungu National Park. Her arms had been cut off – a practice common with ritual murders where people with albinism are killed for their body parts which are sold for use in witchcraft.
“It is deeply worrying that there’s poor security for people with albinism in Malawi despite an increasing number of attacks against them,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
“The government’s human rights obligations require them to protect everyone’s right to life. They must ensure that the police have the resources to protect those at risk of attacks.”
These crimes must be investigated and those suspected of responsibility brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.
In 2015 alone, 45 incidents including killings and attempted killings, and abductions and attempted abductions, as well as opening of the graves of people with albinism were reported by activists in Malawi. Some of those who were abducted have never been seen again.
Attacks against people with albinism by individuals and gangs increased sharply in 2015. Children were withdrawn from schools by their families fearing attacks.
In November 2015, Amnesty International researchers met people with albinism and their families who described how they live in constant fear of attacks and abuses. Some had to move from rural to urban areas for their own safety.
“The government must take urgent action to protect people with albinism and to address the root cause of the violence and discrimination they suffer,” said Deprose Muchena.
“They must also take steps to ensure that superstitions and harmful cultural beliefs which fuel the attacks are tackled.”
According to police information, Eunice Phiri was tricked by three men, including her brother, into accompanying them on a trip to Zambia through the Kasungu National Park where she was killed and her body dismembered on 23 January 2016.
Erroneous beliefs and superstition have put the safety and lives of people with albinism at risk, including from killings, abductions, and mutilations.
On 19 March 2015, Malawian President Peter Mutharika issued a statement condemning attacks on people with albinism, and called on police to arrest perpetrators and provide protection to people at risk of attack.
Although some arrests were made, concerns remain about the inadequacy of police investigations and some perpetrators getting sentences which were not in line with the gravity of the crime.