UN expert urges greater protection of people with albinism from witch doctors

A United Nations independent expert is calling for additional oversight of traditional healers who use body parts in witchcraft rituals and so-called medicines or muti.

 The call comes in the wake of a recent high-profile conviction in South Africa of a traditional healer for masterminding the gruesome murder of a woman with albinism‚ whose genitals‚ arm and other body parts were mutilated for muti.

Bhekukufa Gumede‚ 67‚ a leader of the Zion Congregation Church with 15 branches across South Africa‚ was sentenced to life imprisonment last month in the Mtubatuba High Court in northern KwaZulu-Natal for the murder of 20-year-old Thandazile Mpunzi in August 2015. Three men he hired to kill Mpunzi were already behind bars after pleading guilty to the murder.

Presenting a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week‚ the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by people with albinism‚ Ikponwosa Ero‚ said the demand for the body parts of people with albinism for the purposes of witchcraft rituals‚ or in traditional medicine known as muti or juju‚ has led to the existence of a clandestine market for body parts operating at regional‚ national and international levels.

 “The issue is further complicated by the lack of effective oversight over the practice of traditional healers‚ the secrecy that often surrounds witchcraft rituals and the absence of clear national policies on the issue‚” Ero said.

 She called for a twin-track approach that would urgently address the trafficking of body parts from people with albinism‚ while also demystifying the misbeliefs about albinism.

 At least 600 attacks and violations of rights of people with albinism have been reported in 27 countries‚ the majority in the past six years‚ according to information from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

 Ero welcomed the sentence handed down to Gumede.

“Too often‚ only middlemen and hired hands are arrested or prosecuted‚” Ero said. “This sentence from the High Court of South Africa is particularly important as it condemns the man who organised and recruited persons for the crime.”

 Ero is the first Independent Expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor‚ report and advise on the situation of those worldwide who have albinism.