Dar es Salaam. The United Nations has condemned the wave of albino killings in Tanzania, warning that the upsurge could be linked to the forthcoming General Election campaigns.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, also noted concerns of similar attacks in neighbouring countries of Burundi and Malawi.
Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, Mr Hussein expressed disgust at the barbaric killings in recent times and singled out Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi as countries where the lives of people with albinism are at risk.
He said the violence had left many people with albinism in the region living in abject fear as their body parts are sought-after to be used for witchcraft. Remarkably, he warned that the surge in Tanzania could be linked to looming general and presidential elections in October this year, as political campaigners may be turning to influential sorcerers to improve their odds.
“These attacks are often stunningly vicious, with children in particular being targeted,” he said.
He noted that in the past six months, at least 15 people with albinism in Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi have been abducted, wounded, killed or escaped being kidnapped, including three such attacks in the past week alone.
“Some no longer dare to go outside, and children with albinism have stopped attending school because of the recent spate of assaults, murders and kidnappings,” he added.
According to him, half of the attacks that have taken place since August occurred in Tanzania. Two people were killed, including a one-year-old boy whose arms and legs were hacked off, and one remains missing. Two others had limbs cut off, and one of the victims was gang-raped.
Last weekend, a child with albinism, Baraka Cosmas, 6, was attacked and his right hand hacked off by unknown assailants in Kipeta Village, Sumbawanga District. Rukwa Regional Police Commander Jacob Mwaruanda told reporters that the attackers broke into the house where the boy was sleeping with his mother, Ms Prisca Shaban, 26.
He said the assailants attacked the boy’s mother with machetes when she attempted to fight them off.
The boy was attacked just three days after the High Court sitting in Geita Region sentenced four people to death for murdering an albino woman.
The husband of a 32-year-old Zawadi Magindu, Nassoro Charles, was among the four men sentenced to death for her 2008 killing in Nyamaruru Village.
High Court Judge Joacquine Demello ruled that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the four committed the murder.
The UN statement notes that in Burundi, 19 albinos have been killed since 2008 while in Malawi; at least six attacks have been reported in 2015.
“In one province, groups of men are reported to be roaming around hunting for people with albinism”, the UN said,”
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, often as a result of inbreeding, according to experts.
In his month-end address to the nation last week, President Jakaya Kikwete expressed shock over the fresh wave of attacks, promising to bring to an end the “barbaric cruelty”.
President Kikwete said he was perplexed that the attacks were coming full circle after they remained unheard since 2011 following a crackdown by security agencies.
Mr Kikwete also stressed that people with albinism need not to live in fear and that it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they enjoyed life like other Tanzanians.
He also called on the arrest and charging of perpetrators of such brutal killings, saying his government had relentlessly worked round the clock to prevent the crime ever since he assumed the presidency in 2005.
The President noted that 2008 turned out to be the worst year with 18 murder cases of people with albinism. “It was preceded by deaths of seven people with albinism in 2007, but my government has been working to prevent more deaths”, the president said.
Because of vigilance, the President said, the brutal killings had in 2009 dropped to nine, followed by one case in 2010 with no case reported in 2011. There were two cases reported in 2012 and 2013 respectively, according to the President.