2 May 2018

Malawi: Murder of Man With Albinism in Malawi Sparks Call for Death Penalty

Blantyre — The latest murder of a man with albinism in Malawi - the 22nd in four years - has sparked calls for their killers to be executed to deter a wave of attacks in the poor southern African nation.

The dismembered corpse of 22-year-old McDonald Masambuka was found buried in southern Malawi several weeks after he went missing in March. Several body parts were missing.

A Catholic priest, police officer and medical officer are among 11 people facing charges of conspiracy and murder, police spokesman James Kadadzera told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Information minister Nicholas Dausi said international rights groups and donors were preventing the government from using the death penalty to deter such crimes in Malawi, where people with albinism are hunted down for their body parts.

"They are stopping us from enforcing capital punishment," Dausi was quoted by local media as saying at Masambuka's funeral last month. "Yet in their countries they execute murderers. Is this fair?"

Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for people with albinism - a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes - who are targeted so that their body parts can be used in magical potions and other ritual practices.

The United Nations' top expert on albinism has said people with the condition risk "extinction" in Malawi due to relentless attacks fuelled by superstitions.

President Peter Mutharika has since said Malawi should have an "honest debate" about whether to apply the death sentence to those found guilty of murdering people with albinism.

Malawi suspended capital punishment more than 20 years ago as it embraced democratic reforms. Although the death penalty still exists in law, it has been declared unconstitutional.

MURDERS

But rights groups said the focus on the death penalty was misplaced and the government should step up its efforts to investigate unsolved murders and protect people with albinism.

"We never have any experience where the death penalty has been successful as a deterrent," said Overstone Kondowe, head of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), which helps about 3,400 people with the condition.

It has recorded 146 attacks in Malawi since 2014. About one in 20,000 people worldwide have the congenital disorder, with higher rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

Only five of 22 murders reported since 2014 are in court, said Kondowe, with 17 unsolved.

"We don't have even have a suspect and nobody has been prosecuted," he said of the 17 cases, adding that the police should reopen them now that they have better equipment.

"We didn't have facilities of DNA testing to help with the investigation, so we're seeking that because the current capacity can help to shed light on who was responsible."

Rights groups called on the government to establish a commission of inquiry to find out who is behind the attacks, amid claims that they are organised by criminal gangs.

"There is a green light with the recent case where we have seen high profile people involved," said Timothy Mtambo, who heads the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, a charity.

"We believe a good investigation can open up our windows as to who is behind the trade ... We would be able to say we have unveiled the market and done (away) with the roots."

Mtambo also echoed a United Nations' call on the government to implement its own plan to strengthen protection measures, including buying sturdy locks for poor families at risk of attack, and for public education to eradicate superstitions.

"It should invest in preventative measures, not 'curing' the problem," he said. "It needs to understand where we have people with albinism, which can help in drawing security plans. Currently there is no proper programme."

- Reporting by Charles Pensulo, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Katy Migiro

Malawi

Over 100 Girls Reached Out Through Tingathe Project

More than 100 girls in sexual exploitation areas in Lilongwe through Theatre for a Change Malawi (TfaC) have been… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.