People with albinism

face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide

Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalization and social exclusion. This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination:

  • Women who give birth to children with albinism are often repudiated by their husbands and their families, because they are not aware that both parents must carry the gene to pass it onto their children. Further, children with albinism are frequently abandoned by their parents or, more sporadically, the victims of infanticide, because of the appearance of their skin, the disabilities they may have as a result of their condition, and the belief that they may be a source of misfortune.
  • The deeply entrenched prejudices they face worldwide also impede persons with albinism from accessing adequate health care, social services, legal protection and redress for rights abuses.
  • The forms of discrimination faced by persons with albinism are interrelated. Their right to education, for instance, is affected by their vision impairment that can force them to drop out of school. A poor level of education, in turn, can lead to unemployment and affect their right to an adequate standard of living, consigning many to poverty.

The right to freedom from discrimination requires States to adopt comprehensive strategies to ensure that persons with albinism are afforded equal protection under the law and in practice.

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Beyond the myths and within their rights, people with albinism are human beings

The worst expression of discrimination against persons with albinism is their dehumanization, which lays the foundation for horrifying physical attacks against them. Because some believe that they are magical beings or ghosts, they mutilate or even kill them so their body parts can be used for witchcraft rituals. These attacks claim many lives and surviving victims and their families experience severe trauma. Persons with albinism deserve to have their rights to life and security protected, as well as the right not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Education and awareness-raising campaigns can help combat superstition and stigma associated with albinism.

Attacks against people with albinism are met with indifference

Hundreds of ritual attacks against persons with albinism, particularly children, have been reported in various countries. Many more cases remain undocumented or unreported because of the ostracism of victims and their families, as well as the secret nature of witchcraft. The violence is largely met by social silence and indifference, and is seldom followed by investigations or the prosecution of perpetrators.

The impunity for killings and attacks against persons with albinism is a concern. While some investigation and prosecution seem to take place, sentencing appears to be rare. Victims face significant difficulties in bringing their cases to justice, fearing retaliatory attacks or further stigmatization. Without effective and affordable access to justice, persons with albinism cannot claim their rights and contest the human rights violations to which they are subjected.

The State’s obligation to criminalize, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes is particularly critical due to the vulnerability of persons with albinism. Commitment to do so by States would ensure access to effective remedies, redress and rehabilitation, including medical and psychological care, for the survivors and their families.

A voice for people with albinism

Until recently, international and regional human rights mechanisms had only sporadically addressed the needs of persons with albinism. Since June 2013, because of the recrudescence of attacks against them these bodies have given more attention to persons with albinism.

The United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted resolutions (HRC resolutions 23/13, 24/33 and 26/10, ACHPR resolution 263) in 2013 and 2014 calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism. On 18 December 2014, the General Assembly adopted resolution 69/170, proclaiming, with effect from 2015, 13 June as International Albinism Awareness Day.

Moreover, in response to the call from civil society organizations advocating to consider persons with albinism as a specific group with particular needs that require special attention, on 26 Mars 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 28/L.10 creating the mandate of Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism.

In creating the mandate, the Council reaffirmed that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It also recalled the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and the need for persons with albinism to be guaranteed the full enjoyment of their rights and freedoms without discrimination.

This important new mandate will help give a voice to people with albinism and contribute to their protection through greater awareness-raising; annual reporting at the Human Rights Council on specific concerns; and the provision of advisory services and technical assistance to Member States, in order for them to implement specific measures for the protection of persons with albinism within their borders.

In June 2015, the Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Ikponwosa Ero of Nigeria as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism. Ms. Ero can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.