The threat against PWA is not new, and the international community has put in place policies and conventions which seek to protect and promote the wellbeing and inclusion of PWA. The first and most widely ratified treaty is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD speaks to persons with disabilities in general and does not make express mention of PWA, although its intention is to include them. The attacks against PWA continued and more, albinism-specific resolutions were passed, including the Resolution on Attacks and Discrimination against Persons with Albinism by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2013. The UN then passed the 2013 Technical Cooperation for the Prevention of Attacks Against Persons with Albinism

In 2015, the UNHRC created the mandate of the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights of Persons with Albinism (Independent Expert). This office serves to further investigate the reasons behind the discrimination against PWA, as well as exploring the numerous forms of the same, as they differ from country to country. The Independent Expert’s appointment was in response to the need for public education to eradicate harmful beliefs, such as that of PWA’s body parts bringing riches or that PWA are witches or evil. In some regions, the belief that only women are responsible for the genetic condition results in many women and children being left destitute after being abandoned by their spouses. Furthermore, the work of the Independent Expert is not a standalone mandate but is aimed at working alongside the existing laws and policies, which both recognise and seek to eliminate the vulnerability of PWA through education and awareness.

The above mandate brought about the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa – 2017 to 2021 (RAP). This Plan focuses on prevention, protection, accountability, equality and non-discrimination, setting out 15 concrete measures for coordinated state action. These include sustained public education and awareness-raising campaigns, as well as identifying and addressing root causes. The RAP also recommends effective law enforcement in response to attacks and violations against PAW, as well as the review of legislative frameworks concerning trafficking of body parts and witchcraft, as well as traditional medicine. In May 2018, the Pan African Parliament (PAP) adopted a Resolution on Persons with Albinism in Africa. The resolution was passed in response to the increase in attacks against PWA in Africa. It endorses the RAP and calls for states to address the attacks and discrimination through prevention, protection, accountability, equality and non-discrimination. 

As is clear, there is a wealth of legal frameworks available for the protection of PWA and year on year, more is propagated. The problem is obviously not with the policies in place, but rather, with the implementation of said policies. This means that there is either a lack of communication between legislative bodies and state actors or, more likely, the absence of political will to ensure that PWA are protected. In the implementation of these numerous policies, states would be doing much more than guaranteeing the lives of PWA. Because the struggle of PWA is multi-faceted, there is an intersection of rights abuses. Not only do PWA experience threats to their person – because of a lack of awareness their right to education, their dignity, their freedom of association and their health rights are all affected. 

Whilst the extent of violence against PWA in South Africa is not as extreme as in countries such as Tanzania, the attention they receive is still inadequate when it comes to effective protection and inclusion. Evidence suggests that despite the work of international organisations such as the UN and the AU, together with mobilisation and lobbying from civil society, political will is what will ultimately result in a change in the attitudes of society. It is important to celebrate the strides being made in effective protection whilst simultaneously conducting proactive and responsive work to eliminate this discrimination. 

*Read more about the state of human rights protection in South Africa in the Centre for Constitutional Rights’ annual publication – The Human Rights Report Card.

By Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Assistant, Centre for Constitutional Rights
13 June 2018

Photo by MONUSCO on / CC BY-SA