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ADP ratification key to addressing attacks against persons with albinism

By Aliko Munde

Mzimba, Mana: As most people think of sleeping at night, some evil minded people think of taking away some people’s lives.

In Malawi, persons with albinism feel insecure to go to bed for fear of being attacked or murdered by agents of Satan simply because of a skin condition.

The recent attack and murder is that of a three-year-old innocent girl Talandira Chirwa who was mercilessly stabbed on the neck and chopped off the arm and the assailants went away with it.

It was on fateful day of November 30, 2022 around 23:00 hours, when Talandira was sleeping on the same bed with her grandmother when an unidentified monster forcibly broke into the house and stabbed her and went away with the girl’s arm.

As people are busy working hard to earn a living and live a better life, some people still think that they can get rich by simply taking away life of a person with albinism.

People with albinism in Malawi face numerous human rights abuses such as abductions, killings and mutilations of body parts on the assumptions that their nature boasts of magical powers.

Nkhata Bay based primary school teacher, Nyakondowe fears for her life and that of her two other siblings who have Talandira’s skin condition.

The 27-year-old Nyakondowe, says her house is not well secured and evil minded people can one day attack them.

“After the attacks on persons with albinism started in the country, communities started patrolling our area to curb the inhumane and barbaric behavior,” Nyakondowe says.

Malawi government has taken various measures to end such attacks. In 2019, it distributed mobile personal security alarms to the country’s estimated 10,000 persons with albinism.

It also offered cash rewards of up to $7,000 to anyone who have information about abductions and killing of such people.

It also put in place strategies to curb the malpractice by developing the National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism in Malawi (2018-2022).

Some international Human Rights bodies have spoken against attacks on persons with albinism. The United Nations previously warned that people with albinism are at risk of extinction in Malawi where they are attacked and murdered in cold blood.

Amnesty International called on the authorities in Malawi to improve the protection of persons with albinism across the country following the killing of three-year-old Talandira Chirwa and other attacks in recent years.

According to a National Police Report, in 2021, four cases were recorded and there was no one who was killed. All cases were to do with grave tampering and being found with human bones.

In 2022, one person was killed. A three-year-old Talandira Chirwa in Kasungu. The remaining six were to do with people tampering with graves and some who were found with human tissue especially bones.

African Charter on Human and People’s Rights- Disability Rights Protocol popularly known as The African Disability Protocol (ADP) is one such a legal framework in which African Union member states are expected to formulate disability laws and policies to promote disability rights in their countries in an African localized context.

The protocol addresses and encompasses specific issues such as customs, traditional

beliefs, harmful practices and the role of the family, caregivers and community members.

It also deals with community-based rehabilitation and minority groups within the African

disability community, including people with albinism.

It is the only International Human Rights instrument that expressly recognizes the plight of Persons with Albinism most especially the attacks they face.

The protocol was adopted in 2018 as the Disability Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Banjul Charter). It will come into effect only after it is signed and ratified (made legally binding) by 15 member states of the African Union.

Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA) Project Manager Ethel Kachala Chibwana stresses on the need to have the protocol ratified as the protocol is one of the ways in which issues of Human Rights are owned and advanced by Africans themselves.

“This is a great opportunity for us as Africans with disabilities to enjoy disability rights to the fullest as the protocol has been developed based on unique disability needs and experiences to our continent,” Chibwana explains.

She further says it is high time that as a nation we set the pace for other countries to follow. “This progressive thinking, by signing and ratifying the protocol, will demonstrate to the world on our serious resolve to deal with violations of rights of persons with disabilities in general and those with albinism in particular.”

Malawi is one of the countries on the continent that have signed but are yet to ratify the protocol.

John Kabaghe, Spokesperson in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the country is not failing to ratify the ADP instead, it is subjecting the instrument to internal procedures in the run up to ratification, since such a process cannot be done haphazardly.

Kabaghe says the process requires thorough and complete consultations and clearance to ensure that all stakeholders are able to comply with the obligations, both legal and financial, of any such an international legal instrument.

“The ministry is working towards ADP ratification within the first quarter of 2023,” he says.

Kabaghe further says Malawi has a robust legislative framework to combat the killings of persons with albinism.

He says: “You will recall that the Penal Code was amended to specifically address these issues. The judicial system is able to successfully prosecute cases pursuant to such laws”.

Malawi is also a Party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which upholds international standards on the protection of persons with disabilities, including persons with albinism.

Kabaghe, however, says  joining the ADP should definitely enhance Malawi’s collaboration and cooperation in Africa on the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the rights of persons with disability in the region.

One of the organisations that has been promoting the ratification of the protocol is Sight Savers International (SSI).

SSI is doing this through the “Equal World Campaign”. It is working with partners in Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone to campaign for the ratification of the  protocol.

Bright Chiwaula Sight Savers Malawi Country Director, says there has been sensitisation for Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) about the ADP such that they have secured an interest among OPDs to advocate for the same from an informed position.

“We have engaged the government together with other partners. And the government seems to be committed to ratifying the protocol. As a process to ratification the state president signed the protocol early last year,” he says.

Chiwaula says his Organisation reviewed the protocol in-conjunction with the government as part of the ratification process and found that it is in line with the government’s agenda.

“By not ratifying the ADP it means that some specific disability challenges and issues in the African context are still not being addressed fully thereby subjecting some people with other types of disabilities to continuous harmful behaviours by the society,” he says.

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