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December 2017
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Speeches

R. Msowoya: Address to World Summit 2017

Address to World Summit 2017, Seoul, Korea, February 1 to 5, 2017

 

The Situation of the Enjoyment of Rights by People Living with Albinism – Crisis and Solutions in Malawi

Introduction

The population of persons with albinism in Malawi is estimated at 10,000 people. Although persons with albinism have peacefully coexisted with the rest of the population, their living conditions, especially lately, have been characterized by stigma and discrimination. Over the years, depending on some parts of the country, we have lived to believe that persons with albinism do not die; rather they just disappear. The recent stories of attacks on this vulnerable population have awakened our senses to the long-lived myths and beliefs. People with albinism are being abducted and killed and their remains exhumed for their body parts.

The atrocities against persons with albinism started as isolated cases in 2009. From 2013 to date, however, the country has experienced a steady increase in the reported cases in the districts bordering Mozambique. About 106 cases of atrocities involving persons with albinism have been recorded from 2014; ten of the cases are murder, according to police records, nine are missing persons, fifteen relate to possession of human bones or tissue, sixteen are abductions, thirty-four concern tampering with graves, two are cases of assault causing bodily harm, one is suicide, and one case is conspiracy to commit murder. The reported cases are from over twenty districts, with Machinga District having the highest record of over fourteen cases.

Solutions

The government has since undertaken measures to deal with the perpetrators and ensure that maximum sentences are meted out to offenders, and security has been intensified for persons with albinism. To affirm this commitment, His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, president of the Republic of Malawi, established a National Technical Committee on Abuse of Persons with Albinism. Its mandate is to discuss and oversee the implementation of the response plan and make recommendations.

In June 2016, Parliament also passed an amendment to the Anatomy Act law. This amendment ensures that persons found guilty of committing crimes against persons with albinism are sentenced to life in prison.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Disability and Social Welfare is the responsible government agency mandated to coordinate initiatives aimed at managing the response to attacks on people with albinism. To date, the ministry has strengthened its collaboration with the Association of Persons with Albinism (APAM) and all the other stakeholders working to address the situation. Such stakeholders include the police, traditional leaders, religious leaders, civil society organizations (CSOs), the United Nations, and human rights institutions to ensure a comprehensive, multisector approach to the implementation of the plan.

To this end, a multimedia awareness program is ongoing to educate and sensitize the general public on albinism issues. Community awareness campaigns have been conducted in the affected parts of the country.

One hundred and twenty media personnel were trained to build their capacity in reporting on albinism issues. Additionally, over fifty police prosecutors and magistrates have been trained by the ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, in prosecution of cases of atrocities against persons with albinism.

The ministry has collaborated with the Malawi Human Rights Commission in undertaking follow-up and investigations into reports of alleged cases of human rights violations. The aim is to determine the magnitude of the atrocities and guide effective interventions.

For its part, the Ministry of Education is currently carrying out an assessment to establish the numbers of learners with albinism who are failing to attend school for fear of being attacked. The exercise, when completed, will facilitate the placing of the learners in boarding schools with adequate security arrangements.

The government currently is conducting a mapping exercise to identify the population of persons with albinism. The Ministry of Justice and the National Technical Committee worked to review the penal code. The amended act criminalizes and gives stiffer sentences for the abduction, killing, conspiring, insinuating, exhumation and being found in possession of body parts. The country now has an amended penal code and Anatomy Act. The government has appointed a special prosecutor for crimes against persons with albinism. An expert lawyer has been hired to work with the special counsel to review appeals on cases that had lenient sentencing for possible stiffer penalties.

A survey was undertaken to establish the root cause and magnitude of the atrocities. The findings have helped the country to implement evidence-based interventions.

Challenges

The implementation of the plan to address the attacks has faced a number of challenges, such as the following:

  • 1) Limited financial resources to undertake activities;
  • 2) Lack of necessary investigation equipment to facilitate the provision of evidence for cases;
  • 3) Involvement of close family members of persons with albinism in conniving with perpetrators. 

 


Rt. Hon. Richard Msowoya, Speaker, National Assembly, Malawi

The Rt. Hon. Richard Msowoya is the Speaker of the National Assembly of Malawi. Previously he served as Deputy Minister of Education and Minister of State in the President’s Office. His Bachelor and Master’s degrees are in Supply Chain Management from the University of Malawi and the University of Bolton respectively. He has more than twenty-five years’ experience in national and international development works. 


To go to the 2017 World Summit Conference Schedule, click here.