Lilongwe – Albinos in Malawi are being targeted in an “unprecedented wave of brutal attacks”, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, blaming police for failing to tackle a scourge fuelled by ritual practices.
At least 18 albinos – who have white skin because of a hereditary condition that causes an absence of pigmentation – have been killed across Malawi since November 2014.
Five others are still missing after being abducted, the London-based rights group said in a report.
The report titled “We are not animals to be hunted or sold,” painted a chilling picture, with the body parts of victims, including children, routinely hacked off for use in witchcraft.
“The unprecedented wave of brutal attacks against people with albinism has created a climate of terror,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s director for Southern Africa.
The actual number of people killed may be much higher, Amnesty noted, as many cases go unreported due to the secretive nature of ritual practices in rural areas.
“Malawian authorities have dismally failed them, leaving this population group at the mercy of criminal gangs who hunt them down for their body parts,” said Muchena.
‘A macabre trade’
“Talking will not end these attacks. Concrete action is urgently required.” The Amnesty report said the body parts were used as “charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck.”
“The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that bones of people with albinism contain gold.”
Malawi police said they had recorded at least 69 crimes against people with albinism since November 2014 and some 39 cases of illegal exhumation of the bodies of people with the condition.
Police spokesman Nicholas Gondwa was unable to give earlier statistics for albino killings but confirmed that 18 albinos had been killed since November 2014.
He told AFP that the police “were doing all they can to educate people about the need for communities to provide security to albinos.”
The Machinga district in the south of the impoverished country has been identified by police as the area where most attacks take place.
Amnesty documented several cases, including that of a 17-year-old boy, who was abducted and trafficked to Mozambique in April where he was killed. Both his arms and legs were chopped off and his bones removed.
The attacks and discrimination have sown terror among the 7 000 to 10 000 Malawians living with albinism.
Amnesty called on the government to improve protection, including better policing in rural areas. In April, Malawi’s police chief Lexen Kachama issued an order for the police to shoot those who attack albinos, calling them “dangerous criminals.”
The killing of albinos is also prevalent in Tanzania and Mozambique.
The UN in April warned that Malawi faces “systematic extinction” of people living with albinism if they continue to be murdered for their body parts.
“People tell me in my face that they will sell me,” a 37-year-old man told Amnesty.
“One time someone said I was worth 6 million Malawian Kwacha (over R126 000).”