Calls to stamp out persecution of people with albinism
By George Arende
An extraordinary event happened in September at the Palais Wilson in Geneva. For the first time a United Nations body, the United Nations Independent Expert on Persons with Albinism, in collaboration with the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) and Lancaster University, held a two day workshop on witchcraft and human rights. The meeting was convened to examine and address the impact of witchcraft and the problems that result in gross human rights violations.
In a statement released by Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights of Persons with Albinism, “[The United Nations admits that] in numerous countries around the world, harmful practices related to witchcraft result in serious human rights violations, such as various forms of torture and murder, discrimination and exclusion”. The ground-breaking workshop offered a window of opportunity to discuss “witchcraft and human rights in a holistic, systematic and in-depth manner” said Ms Ero.
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition which occurs worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender. It commonly results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes (oculocutaneous albinism), deficiencies that cause vulnerability to sun exposure. Exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer and severe visual impairment. The World Health Organization suggests that America and Europe have 1 in every 20,000 person with the condition, while 1 in 1000 people in Sub- Saharan Africa suffer from Albinism. Witch-crafts use body parts of people with albinism to make amulet charms, which many believe bring good fortune and luck.
Women and children are mostly affected by the frequent infanticide, kidnapping, amputation or decapitation to harvest body parts. The exact number of people abused remains unknown as most of the abuse goes unreported.
Dr Ojot Miru Ojulu works for the Lutheran World Federation as Interim Assistant General Secretary for International Affairs and Human Rights, a position that places him at the centre of human rights and social justice activities of the United Nations in Geneva. Together with other UN experts, academics and members of civil society organisations, he attended the two day workshop on witchcraft and human rights.
“Albinism is a humanity problem and not only for a few people in advocacy and human rights field,”he said.
He lamented that “People living with albinism are maimed and killed for trade in their body parts; all in total contravention of international human rights law.” People keen to succeed in business, others looking after promotion at workplaces and even politicians hunting for voter winning formulae; all contribute in making the human body parts a lucrative business. In Sub Saharan Africa, body parts sale can fetch as much as 2,500USD.
Although the practice is outlawed in many Sub-Saharan countries – ignorance, myths and superstition still pose a challenge in stopping the practice. A little pot is soon hot for those people accused of the practice, for they themselves face fatal consequences, in some cases mutilation or death.
Several Lutheran churches in the south are active in confronting this problem. “We amplify the voices of churches in areas affected and table the issues at the global platform,” said Dr Ojot.
When asked about the role of the church, Dr Ojot said, “Truthful biblical teaching based on the love of God for all can help counter the belief system in witchcraft”. He added that the church has multiple ways to respond to human rights violations against people with albinism. One way is for churches to offer “spiritual reassurance on the thoughts, beliefs and actions of people who find answers in witchcraft,” he added.
Solidarity with People with Albinism
All men and women are created in the image of God. Part of that image is being erased and calls on us to stand in solidarity with people with albinism. “Human beings are equal in dignity and worth by virtue of being human,” reiterated Dr Ojot. He added that human dignity is inherent and non-negotiable and as such attacks, mutilations, discrimination and stigmatization are all against the very biblical teaching that all are equal before God. He further challenged the church to “Treat everyone with respect and dignity; stand with those whose dignities are challenged”.
A keeper of our brothers and sisters means caring for one another. Dr Ojot draws his strength from the Genesis 4: 8- 10 verse when advocating for global challenges. According to him, “Keepers of our brothers [and sisters] is a basic Christian principle”. Wars, conflict, refugee crises and other challenges that yield slow results, can at times discourage. “[As a human] sometimes I lose hope, but there are many sides of hope that keep me going,” he noted.
“People who stood up against US travel ban, many stories of hope during the European refugees crisis, civil society coming together and people standing in solidarity with the oppressed, all restore my hope” he added.
He believes the world is filled with both good and bad people, and the side one takes is what matters. “There are voices of hope out there which need to be amplified.” There is hope, “we are not alone” he said.
“Not acting is not the solution. Join the good voices even in situations of helplessness.”