Lilongwe - A new report by Amnesty International (AI) has revealed that a surge in the killings of people with albinism, whose body parts are used in rituals, is a result of the systematic failure of policing in Malawi.
According to the report, titled "We are not animals to be hunted or sold: Violence and discrimination against people with albinism in Malawi", the wave of violent attacks against people with albinism had increased sharply over the last two years, with four people, including a baby, murdered in April 2016 alone.
The report released on Tuesday in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe said since November 2014, at least 18 people had been killed and at least five had been abducted and remained missing. The situation, AI said, had left the vulnerable group living in fear.
"The unprecedented wave of brutal attacks against people with albinism has created a climate of terror for this vulnerable group and their families who are living in a state of constant fear for their lives," said Amnesty’s Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena at a news conference in Malawi capital on Tuesday.
He added: "Malawian authorities have dismally failed them, leaving this population group at the mercy of criminal gangs who hunt them down for their body parts."
While official figures showed that 18 albinos had been killed so far, AI believed the actual number was much higher, as some killings in rural areas were not reported.
Currently, there was no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.
According to AI research, the killings continued because of the superstition that the bones of people with albinism had gold and potent magical powers.
"Their bones are believed to be sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck. The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that bones of people with albinism contain gold," read the AI report in part.
Apart from the current wave of extreme forms of violence, the report also found that people with albinism in Malawi faced widespread societal discrimination, including verbal abuse and exclusion from accessing basic public services.
The 10 000-strong albino population in Malawi was also reportedly discriminated against in the education system and many died from skin cancer because of lack of access to preventative resources such as sunscreen.
Superstitious Malawians were not only pursuing those living with the condition, but albino hunters have also started exhuming bodies.
The police had so far recorded at least 39 cases of illegal exhumation of the bodies of people with albinism or of people in possession of bones taken from corpses.
Amnesty International opines that some of them may in fact be cases of actual killings, rather than mere grave tampering and robberies.
Association of People with Albinism in Malawi director Boniface Massah said many members of the community were living in great fear.
"I am the face of the crusade against the killings in Malawi. I greatly fear for my life as I might be the target of the killers. Time is ripe the world understood of our hardships as persecuted members of society," he said.
One 37-year-old man told Amnesty International: "People tell me in my face that they will sell me. One time someone said I was worth 6 million Malawi Kwacha ($10 000). I felt pained by the remarks that a price tag can be put on me."
Women with albinism suffered the most humiliation as they are touted as machilitso (cure), a description that fuelled the belief that having sex with a person with albinism could cure HIV.
While the Malawi Police Service disclosed that at least 69 crimes against people with albinism had been documented since November 2014, the global human rights body said the police lacked adequate training and skills needed to investigate such crimes.
"The Malawi Police Service lacks resources, such as transport, to respond in a timely way to reported crimes and maintain visible policing in districts reporting high numbers of attacks."
The report added: "In addition, there are fears that some police officers carry the same prejudices against people with albinism that exists within the wider Malawian society and fail to take human rights abuses against people with albinism seriously."
AI urged the Malawi to stop burying its head in the sand and pretend that this problem would just vanish.
"All reports of crimes against people with albinism should be revisited, and thoroughly, impartially, independently and transparently investigated and suspected perpetrators brought to justice, in particular cases of people found with human bones."