EAST AFRICA: GOVERNMENTS MUST WORK WITH CIVIL SOCIETY TO STOP ALBINO KILLINGS

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 9 Jun 2009

The East African (Kenya)

Bujumbura (Burundi) – A lobby for albinos is petitioning East African governments to work closely with civil society to stem the rising killings of albinos in the region.

Meeting members of the East African Legislative Assembly in Bujumbura recently, representatives of the Burundi Albino Association told them harrowing tales of the challenges they face as “albino citizens” in East Africa.

Led by its president, Kazungu Kassim, the lobby said the spate of albino killings witnessed recently in Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya was becoming a major concern in the region.

The trend, the lobby said, reflected poorly on the region’s human rights record.

“There is a need for the East African Community to consult more with civil society defending the rights of EAC citizens and the rights of the disabled in particular, in order to examine the situation and develop more options for deeper co-operation at the regional level,” said Mr Kassim.

The killing of albinos in East Africa has raised great concern since last year.

Trade in their body parts, believed by some to have magical powers as well as conferring longevity on those who use them as talismans or as potions, has been going on for years, but only came into the international limelight in 2007, when the underground industry — centred around Tanzanian fishermen and traditional healers — left dozens of adults and many children hacked to death.

Slain albinos are typically being dismembered, with their heads, limbs and genitals ground into powders or hacked into pieces that are sold to clients as charms.

In Tanzania, for instance, over 40 people have died in the past year. In Burundi, it is been over nine people in five months up to March this year.

Both the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have condemned the attacks.

In Tanzania, President Jakaya Kikwete is trying to repair the country’s tarnished image by encouraging a national campaign for citizens to come forward and name killers and facilitators of the trade. Government officials are fanning out across the country.

Last week, the Burundi Albino Association praised President Kikwete’s efforts in trying to contain the killings and encouraged other EAC partner states to follow suit.

However, the organisation said that though considerable progress had been made on human rights issues in the EAC region, the current killings and hostility portrayed towards the albino community, shows that the region is still a long way from achieving full respect for human rights.

Members of the East African Legislative Assembly donated $700 to the Association.

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