, DAR ES SALAAM, May 5 – Authorities in Tanzania, under fire for failure to stem a tide of witchcraft-related murders of albinos, on Monday pledged more protection of people with albinism.
Rights groups have blamed the government for failing to ensure the security of lives and dignity of albinos — targetted for their body parts which are used in witchcraft and for lucky charms.
Vice President Ali Mohamed Shein said the east African country recently signed up to international laws that guarantee the protection of people with disabilities such as albinos, and is crafting similar national legislation.
"Tanzania last month (April) ratified an international convention for protection of people with disabilities," he told a rally to mark National Albino Day, being celebrated for the first time this year.
"Under the proposed law, rights of the disabled including albinos will be strongly protected. We cannot accept to see the disabled being attacked, maimed and killed," Shein said.
At least 45 albinos have been slaughtered in Tanzania since late 2007. Their limbs and organs are sold for thousands of dollars to witch doctors across the region who use them to concoct wealth-enhancing charms.
"All of us must resist beliefs that people can get rich through short-cuts like having a part of a human body. Our prosperity will come through work … hard work," the vice-president said.
The head of the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS), Ernest Kimaya, praised a recent government crackdown on the murders, including the introduction of a system designed to public participation in protecting albinos.
One method encourages people to write down the names of suspected albino murderers and deposit the names in a ballot-box. The idea is that police would then investigate those whose names are repeatedly mentioned.
The campaign appears to be paying off because cases of albino murders and attacks have declined significantly.
"Indeed we have no report of murder or attack of an albino since February," said Kimaya.
Albinism is a congenital lack of the melamin pigment in the skin, eyes and hair which protects from the sun’s ultraviolets. Albinos are vulnerable to medical complications as well as social discrimination in Africa.
Of about 150,000 albinos in Tanzania, a country of some 35 million, some 8,000 are registered with the TAS. Some families kill albino babies at birth to avoid discrimination, authorities say.