Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world. BOTH the father and mother must carry the gene for it to be passed on even if they do not have albinism themselves. 

The condition results in a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all people with albinism are visually impaired, with the majority being classified as “legally blind”. While numbers vary, in North America and Europe it is estimated that 1 in every 20,000 people have some form of albinism. In Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is much more prevalent, with estimates of 1 in 2,000 people being affected. The term “person with albinism” (PWA) is preferred to the term “albino”

 While albinos in sub-Saharan Africa have faced discrimination for many years, their situation has become far more dangerous in recent years in Tanzania. Albinos in Tanzania are increasingly targeted by those who would kill them for their body organs, limbs and even hair to be used in luck potions by others seeking wealth and good fortune in business and professional circles. According to local residents, witch doctors use the organs and bones in concoctions to divine for diamonds in the soil, while fishermen have been known to weave albino hair into their nets hoping for a big catch on Lake Victoria. More than 50 albinos have been killed in Tanzania and neighboring Burundi in the past year - prompting a network of protective services and a few arrests and murder trials which have been fast-tracked by the Tanzanian government.

A teenage Tanzanian albino girl sits in the female dormitory at a government-run school for the disabled in Kabanga, in the west of the country near the town of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika June 5, 2009. The school began to take in albino children late last year after albinos were being killed in Tanzania and neighbouring Burundi by people who allegedly sell their body parts for use in witchcraft. Picture taken June 5. (REUTERS/Alex Wynter/IFRC/Handout)

Mabula, 76, crouches beside his bed January 25, 2009 in his mud-thatched bedroom in a village near Mwanza near the grave of his granddaughter, five-year-old Mariam Emmanuel, an Albino who was murdered and mutilated in an adjacent room in February of 2008 and who was buried inside the mud hut to discourage grave robbers who commonly dig up albino bones. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture taken on May 28, 2009 shows human body parts including a femur and what appears to be stack of skin tissue exhibited in a courtroom during a trial of 11 Burundians accused of the murder of albinos, whose limbs have been sold to witch doctors in neighbouring Tanzania, in Ruyigi. A Burundi prosecutor, Nicodeme Gahimbare, demanded sentences ranging from one year to life in prison at a trial. Gahimbare requested life sentences for three of the 11 accused, eight of whom were in the dock over the killing of a eight-year-old girl and a man in March this year. (Esdras Ndikumana/AFP/Getty Images)

A Tanzanian Red Cross Society (TRCS) volunteer holds the hand of an albino toddler at a picnic organised by the TRCS at the government-run school for the disabled in Kabanga, in the west of the country near the town of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika June 5, 2009. (REUTERS/Alex Wynter/IFRC/Handout)

Albino children take a break on January 25, 2009 in a recreational hall at the Mitindo Primary School for the blind, which has become a rare sanctuary for albino children.(TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Neema Kajanja, 28, molds a pot from clay at her grandmother's home in Ukerewe, Tanzania on January 27, 2009, where she and two siblings, both albinos, curently live. Ukerewe, an island on Lake Victoria near the town of Mwanza, is a safe haven compared to other parts of Tanzania where people with albinism now live in fear for their lives as their body parts limbs, internal organs and even hair grow increasingly sought after to be sold for luck potions. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Nine-year-old Amani sits in a recreational hall at the Mitindo Primary School for the blind on January 25, 2009, where he enrolled following the murder of his sibling, five-year-old Mariam Emmanuel, an albino who was murdered and mutilated in February 2008. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Albino children play at the Mitindo Primary School for the blind on January 25, 2009. The school has become a rare sanctuary for vulnerable albino children in Tanzania. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

An albino child poses at a picnic organised by the Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS) at the government-run school for the disabled in Kabanga, near Kigoma, Tanzania on June 5, 2009.

An Albino teenage girl copies notes from a blackboard in her classroom at the Mitindo Primary School for the blind on January 28, 2009 in Tanzania. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Challenges that PWAs are facing in Tanzania
The horror of a rapidly growing industry in the sale of albino body parts. This unimaginable evil is driven by the belief (in some areas of the country) that the body parts of PWA possess magical powers capable of bringing riches if used in potions produced by local witchdoctors. To date, reports indicate that 78 PWA have been brutally attacked and their body parts hacked off and sold to witchdoctors. Of the 78 attacks, 62 were murders and 16 are mutilated survivors. 

Leaders in the albinism community believe the actual number of attacks & deaths are closer to 100 or more. Reports also indicate that albino body parts are being exported outside of Tanzania. In one instance, a Tanzanian trader was caught traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the head of an infant with albinism in his possession. He told police that a businessman there was going to pay him for the head according to its weight.


What is “Muti?”
Muti (pronounced mu:ti) is a zulu word that means traditional African medicine or magical charms.1 It is a word most commonly used in southern Africa to represent African medicine. It specifically means African medicine involving the use of human body parts

Muti and the use of human body parts
Human body parts are used in muti to support the belief that regular muti medicine will be more effective if human body parts are involved. The body parts are often taken from live victims. This is because it is believed that the screams of victims being hacked enhances the potency of the medicine.3 Muti victims are mostly children and most recently in East Africa, persons with albinism. Body parts of muti victims are not only
traded locally, but are also often transported across borders of various countries where there is demand.


Simon Fellows, author of a 2008 report titled Trafficking Body Parts in Mozambique and South Africa explains that where human-organ-muti is found, there is often the belief that such muti is a source of wealth and business prosperity.4 70% of people surveyed by Fellows in Mozambique and South Africa for example, believe “that body parts make muti medicine more effective and that such medicine can solve any problem,
from poverty to health issues.

Albino Killings are Muti Killings
The use of albino body parts for muti is part of a larger practice in the use of human body parts for muti. 6 Conservative estimates in the past decade show general mutirelated killings of 30 persons per year in southern Africa.

 Muti killings specific to persons with albinism is higher however. In East Africa, between 2007 and 2010, scores of persons with albinism have been killed. A more accurate estimate would be higher given that not all cases are reported. Also when one takes into account the link of muti to poverty and the rising rates of poverty on the sub continent, a higher number of victims of muti is likely more accurate.

Why Now?
Muti killings have been going on for decades and in some cases, for centuries on various parts of the African sub-continent. The degree and extent and whether these killings have intensified or abated are questions that are not easily answered. This is because muti activities are often shrouded by a “code of silence” which makes reporting, and the necessary prosecution and investigation all the more difficult.

 The silence in muti-use and trading is made worse by the fact that the consumers of muti medicine often remain a mystery.

International Help
There is a UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, (“the Trafficking in Persons Protocol”) signed in the year 2000.10 This is the Protocol that comes close to covering trafficking in human organs.

Article 3 (a) of the protocol defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

In essence the protocol prevents human trafficking in the event that the victim is alive and the purpose of movement of that victim is to remove body parts. The protocol does not cover the issue of movement of body parts that have been removed without any of the coercive elements above.11 It is this gap in this international protocol that calls for stronger responses to muti from governments at the national level.

National Response
In line with our mandate here at UTSS, the following presents national responses only to those muti-related killings of persons with albinism.

In July 2010, The High Court of Mwanza, Tanzania convicted 50 year old, Kazimiri Mashauri and sentenced him to death for the brutal murder of a 5 year old girl with albinism. The girl was mutilated and killed for the purposes of muti-related beliefs.12 Other similar trials are currently underway in Tanzania.

 men accused of murdering and selling body parts of persons with albinism are jailed in Burundi. Of the 5, 1 was found guilty of "planning and carrying out the killings" and sentenced to life in jail. The other 4 were found guilty of attempted murder and kidnapping. Their jail terms ranged from 7 to 15 years.13

UTSS’ Stance on Muti
Under The Same Sun condemns use of the human body for muti purposes. Particularly, UTSS condemns the targeting and killing of any human being, including persons with albinism.

At UTSS, our members of staff on the ground in East Africa and North America areworking hard to ensure the health, safety and well-being of persons with albinism in sub Saharan Africa. We are doing this through several programs in education, health and public awareness. We are also inviting governments to condemn muti killings while asking national governments in East Africa to investigate, try and punish those
behind this gruesome trade.

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