On albinism awareness

T

he International Albinism Awareness Day (IAAD), commemorated annually on June 13, is always an occasion for mixed emotions. Ranging from anger to despair and hope, these emotions also reveal deep-seated complexities, and arouse wringing questions on humanity itself.

Year after year, it seems the questions remain unresolved and the problems grow even bigger. For IAAD last year, I was in Malawi where I attended a series of events marking the day. The big win, I suppose, was the official launch of the National Action Plan on Albinism, spearheaded by the government, civil society groups and selected multilateral institutions.

Notably, Malawi and Mozambique experience the highest number of attacks on people with albinism in southern Africa.

In Mozambique, for example, cases of abductions and killings of people with albinism have been reported in Nampula Province as recently as May this year. In March, a six-year-old boy disappeared in Larde District and in May, an 11-year-old girl was abducted in Murrupula District and later found dead, with her limbs cut off. No arrests have been made yet in the Larde attack while three people have been arrested in the Murrupula abduction and murder.

At the height of attacks in Mozambique, around 2015, a record 60 attacks were reported.

In Malawi, the launch of the National Action Plan generated much hope. This moment was, however, interrupted by a resurgence in killings and abductions, with at least four killings having happened since then.

The most recent cases include the brutal killing of 54-year-old Yasin Phiri on New Year ’s Eve.  On January  21 this year, an 18-month-old child, Eunice Nkhonjera, was abducted from her mother’s bed in the middle of the night.

Arrests have since been made in the murder of Phiri.

I have since been to Malawi again, most recently this past May. Coming as it did against the backdrop of a litany of challenges which people with albinism are facing in the country, principal to which was the extremely lethargic pace at which matters involving attacks on persons with albinism were being pursued, the visit was also an opportunity to reflect.

This time, last year, there had only been one matter involving an attempted murder that had been finalised in the courts with a guilty verdict. However, there were 21 murders that had been reported since 2014.

Currently, there are 28 files which the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale is seized with.

Some of the matters have since been finalised, with sentences that include a death penalty having been handed down.

The death penalty itself is controversial. However, in my conversations with Kachale and counsel Dr Steve Kayuni, who is leading the prosecution of murder suspects for persons with albinism, they both informed me that the DPP’s office had adopted a deliberate policy of seeking the death penalty in every matter they were prosecuting involving the murder of a person with albinism.

Kachale and Kayuni both acknowledged their awareness of the fact that this position puts them at odds with various human rights instruments, organisations and funding partners.

Their counter-point, however, is that if they are to be taken seriously with prosecutions, then nothing less than the death penalty will suffice.

Since last year, the DPP and the Judiciary have acknowledged it was folly to treat matters of people with albinism in the same way as they treat other matters. Therefore, it has since been decided that matters involving attacks on people with albinism will be fast-tracked.

As such, additional judges and resident magistrates are being hired and because of this, prosecutions are happening at a reasonably faster pace, much to the relief of those who have previously had choice words for the criminal justice system in Malawi.

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