Killings of people with albinism have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations independent expert on albinism rights said Thursday.
The increase came as some people who sank into poverty turned to witchcraft hoping to gain quick wealth during the crisis, Ikponwosa Ero, the UN’s first independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, said in a statement.
“Despite progress on many fronts, I was deeply saddened at the notable increase in reported cases of people with albinism being killed or attacked because of the mistaken belief that using their body parts in potions can bring good luck and wealth,” she said.
“Even more tragically, the majority of victims have been children.”
UN experts report their findings to the global body but do not speak for it.
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition which occurs worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender.
It most commonly results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure.
The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalisation and social exclusion, according to the UN.
Dehumanisation of people with the condition leads to “horrifying physical attacks”, says the UN rights office.
“Because some believe that they are magical beings or ghosts, they mutilate or even kill them so their body parts can be used for witchcraft rituals. These attacks claim many lives and surviving victims and their families experience severe trauma,” it says.
Ero was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2015 as the first independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
She is leaving her post and will be succeeded on Sunday by Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond of Zambia.
The Human Rights Council passed a resolution earlier this month which condemned human rights violations committed through witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks.
“I have spent the last six years battling witchcraft-related attacks against people with albinism, and am gratified that there has been much progress on several continents, despite some setbacks during the pandemic,” said Ero.
She said research on albinism had increased more than tenfold, leading to greater understanding of the condition and the issues around it.
“While we have come very far in the fight against these heinous acts, the road ahead remains long and arduous,” Ero warned.