Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Canadian group vows to fight Tanzania albino murders

A Canadian group vows justice over the killings of Albinos in Tanzania, whose body parts are sold to be used in witchcraft.

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA REUTERS - 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.

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 witch doctors 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.

"About a year ago men broke to their home, wielding machetes in the dark. They smashed through the door into the room where Mariam and her siblings were sleeping, and they isolated her in a separate room of the home and they took out a machete, they pinned her down against the bed and they slit her across the throat and she began to bleed. They turned her body over and they took a cooking pot and they drained her blood into a pot while her other siblings watched. Then one of the killers drank the blood on the spot from the pot. Once they were done with that they began with the right leg and they sawed it off while she was alive in pain. They then sawed off her left leg. They then began with the right arm, then moved to the left arm," said Peter Ash, the founder and director of Under The Same Sun.

"Mariam screamed in agony. She did not have the benefit of being unconscious first. She was killed alive like an animal by grown men. They did this while the siblings watched. By the time her mother and other relatives got to the scene, she was already dead and the killers had run off with the body parts, which of course they will sell to witch doctors who then take those body parts, her precious blood, her little legs, her little arms, they grind them up like meat in a butcher shop and they mix them with potions. So this crime, this genocide, this crime against humanity can continue. The witch doctors in the community will buy those body parts and they'll mix them with potions and sell them to the wealthy businessmen and businesswomen in the mining industry and fishing industry and other individuals who may have political affiliations or business affiliations, who wants to become successful, they want to win elections, they want to succeed in business, and they will consult the services of these witch doctors and they'll use Albino body parts," Ash added.

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 witch doctors 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.

Ash will later tour another school in Kasulu in western Tanzania near the border with Burundi where about 56 albinos live.

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.