Canadian group vows to fight Tanzania albino murders

By George Obulutsa, ReutersSeptember 14, 2009

DAR ES SALAAM – A Canadian rights group says it will not rest until there is an end to the murder of albinos in Tanzania — a minority often hunted down for their body parts to be used in witchcraft.

Since 2007 at least 53 albinos have been killed in various parts of the east African nation, with most incidents occurring in the remote northwest regions of Shinyanga and Mwanza, where superstition is deep-seated.

“We will not rest and we will not silence our voice until every single one of those 53 victims has received the vindication due to them … We will not rest until albinos can walk safely in this country,” Peter Ash, founder and director of Under The Same Sun, told Reuters in an interview.

Albinos lack pigment in their eyes, skin or hair, making their life difficult in Africa, where there is plenty of sunshine. They are more susceptible to skin cancer and sunburn.

Tanzania has about 170,000 albinos among its 40 million people, according to government and lobby groups, and grisly stories about their killings are carried in local media.

The killers sell parts such as arms, legs, hair, skin and genitals to those involved in witchcraft, The buyers hope these grisly ingredients will make their magic more potent, according to police and albino groups.

The high level of violence against albinos reflects the strength of many Tanzanians’ belief in witchcraft. Tanzanian witchdoctors are believed to be the best and are also sought after by people from elsewhere in east Africa.

Ash, an albino, gave the example of a 5-year-old girl named Mariam who was attacked by a group of men in Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

“One of them slit her throat, drained her blood into a saucepan and drank it in the presence of her two siblings,” Ash said late on Sunday.

The men then chopped off her limbs and ran off, he said.

“Mariam did not have the benefit of being unconscious first. She was killed, like an animal, by grown men who did this deliberately while her siblings watched,” Ash said.

Authorities have arrested more than 90 people, including four police officers, for their role in the killings of albinos or trade in albino body parts, which witchdoctors tell their clients will bring luck in love, life and business.

Ash said that Mariam’s mother had taken her brother, also an albino, to a boarding school for safety, but the boy cannot go home for holidays and instead lives with foster families.

“The school is apparently overcrowded and there’s parents and babies and toddlers sleeping in dormitories at the school because they cannot return to the village because of the attacks,” he said.

In June, prosecutors opened at least 15 cases against suspects, five of them in Shinyanga.

The murders have damaged Tanzania’s reputation for relative calm in the region, and drawn condemnation from the United Nations and European Union.

In neighbouring Burundi, at least 11 albinos have been killed since last year. So far five people have been convicted, including one who received a life sentence.

Authorities in Burundi say people in Tanzania ordered the killings.

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