Lutheran Bishop in Tanzania speaks up against the persecution of people with albinism

Patrick Tambure fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his family, because they no longer felt safe. He and four of his eight siblings have albinism. Photo: LWF/M. Renaux (2015)

LWF urges Human Rights Council to work with religious leaders

(LWI) - For members of one Lutheran diocese in Tanzania, there is no place for the persecution of people with albinism - an affliction that blights not only their community and country but others in Africa.  

Bishop Dr Emanuel Makalla, of the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (SELVD) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, strongly condemns tyranny against those with albinism. The diocese has formed a new ministry, the Ministry Against The Persecution Of People With Albinism.

“Persecution of albinos is against human rights and caused by ignorance, corruption and unfaithfulness to God,” Bishop Makalla told Lutheran World Information.

“It cannot be taken out by force alone but by the power  of the Gospel that penetrates to people’s hearts and makes faith in Christ and  by showing the fruits of love and care.”

Albinism is a condition caused by a lack of melanin in the skin, hair and eyes. It is a genetically inherited condition affecting people worldwide, which requires both parents to carry the gene. According to the UN, in some areas it can affect as many as 1 in 70 people, although in general 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 20,000 are affected by the condition.

Tanzania is thought to have one of the world’s largest populations of people living with albinism, but the condition is prevalent and people with albinism are equally persecuted in neighboring countries in East and the horn of Africa. Because of their different appearance, people with albinism are blamed for misfortunes, sometimes referred to as ghosts, and ostracized. They are threatened by ritual killings for their body parts, which are believed to be potent medicine and sought after by witch doctors. An illegal market has developed for body parts which are sold at high prices. Children are especially at risk of being attacked and dismembered.

In a SELVD report, the diocese notes that many people in East Africa’s Lake Victoria zone still practice traditional beliefs and animism, which includes the worship of deceased ancestors.

“Some people still consult witchdoctors and follow their advice. This often results in violence to women and children. For instance, older women who have red eyes are considered witches and are in danger of being killed,” says the SELVD report.

Bishop Makalla has pleaded for the protection of elderly women and people with albinism killed by ruthless people who believe in witchcraft.

“The church speaks for those who can’t raise up their voices because of fear from the endangered circumstances against their lives. The church speaks for their right to live with albinism, the right to speak, to study and to be loved,” the SELVD report says.

The ministry also commits the church to collaborate with government and community leaders and other human rights’ organizations to help victims of albinism claim their rights, from the family level upwards.

UN urged to work with religious leaders

In March, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Geneva called on the United Nations to work with religious leaders to tackle human rights violations against people with albinism.

In response to a United Nations report on people with albinism, presented to the Human Rights Council (HRC), the LWF’s Senior Advocacy Officer for International Affairs and Human Rights, Dr Ojot Miru Ojulu, said in a statement that the HRC, and the entire United Nations system, should work with religious leaders to deconstruct myths and other harmful practices affecting the human rights of people with albinism.

“The current report on witchcraft and the human rights of persons with albinism is not only timely but can also serve as valuable resource for our work on tackling the root causes of this problem,” Dr Ojulu told the 34th session of the Human Rights Council.

“We are calling upon the HRC and UN system in general to work with religious leaders to deconstruct the myths and other harmful practices affecting the human rights of persons with albinism,” he said.

On 3 March 2017, the first UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism by the Human Rights Council, Ms Ikponwosa Ero, from Nigeria, addressed the cause of albinism.

She stressed that addressing deeply rooted beliefs, such as the belief in the efficacy of witchcraft and using human body parts, necessitates “efforts in public education, which ought to be sustained even when the most visible consequences of the issue, namely physical attacks, appear to be decreasing.”