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Killed for their bones - On the trail of the trade in human body parts
by Azad Essa, Sorin Furcoi, Suzgo Chitete
Al Jazeera Media Network, agencies
June 2017
Highlighting the importance of cooperation among countries to overcome the violence and discrimination faced by persons with albinism, a United Nations rights expert has urged African nations to fully implement a regional action plan on ending attacks on persons with albinism.
“The plan sets out clearly what States can do – for example educating the public, collecting data and researching the root causes of the violence,” said the UN Independent Expert on human rights of persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, in her message for International Albinism Awareness Day.
The regional action plan to end attacks on persons with albinism in Africa – the first-ever such joint initiative – was recently endorsed by the African Commission on Human and People''s Rights. It includes 15 practical steps which are expected to go a long way in addressing the persisting and deadly challenge.
“International cooperation will be a turning point in the long battle to end discrimination for people with albinism, some of whom continue to be murdered for their body parts,” added Ms. Ero.
According to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the action plan focuses on ensuring accountability as well as support for victims and uses legal and policy frameworks to deter practices of witchcraft and trafficking in body parts.
Further, Ms. Ero underscored that persons with albinism also face significant barriers restricting their equal participation in society, impacting their rights to enjoy physical and mental health and their ability to access adequate health care, education, social services, legal protection, and redress for abuses.
In particular, women and children face violence, suffer from discrimination, stigma and social exclusion, forced into becoming marginalized within their communities and face social exclusion caused by misunderstanding, deeply entrenched prejudices and stereotyping.
“We cannot rest until we have seen change in people''s lives and tackled the root causes of the current situation,” she said, calling everyone concerned to be bold and to persevere to ensure that all people with albinism enjoy their full human rights.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of joint action […] we advance together, with renewed hope inspired by the principle of ''leaving no one behind'' which is at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Ms. Ero''s statement has been endorsed by the African Commission on Human and People''s Rights; the UN Special Rapporteur on physical and mental health, Dainius Pûras; the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere; the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar; and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard.
Killed for their bones - On the trail of the trade in human body parts.
In Malawi, people with albinism are being killed and their bodies harvested; children and adults hacked to death with machetes and kitchen knives. More than 115 people have been attacked in the past two years, at least 20, fatally. Those who have survived have been left with deep physical and psychological scars, and remain fearful that those who hunt them will return.
But why is this happening? Ask and most people will talk about an elusive market for these body parts, people who are prepared to pay large sums of money for them and witch doctors who use them in potions to cure everything from disease to bad luck. But few seem to know where this trade actually takes place or to be able to point to an instance of money changing hands.
So, does this market of human body parts really exist, or is it a myth that is driving murder? We went in search of the market and found a toxic mix of witchcraft, poverty and desperation.
Here are the stories of the victims, the survivors and the perpetrators.
The condition that makes me black without black, white but not white. That is how it was, and I will tell you all about it. - Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory
David’s story: Village of Nambilikira, Dedza district, eastern Malawi
It was a Sunday in April 2016. A warm, dry day. Seventeen-year-old David Fletcher was being moody and withdrawn. He wanted to watch a football match at the local school instead of helping his family gather maize in the fields. His parents eventually relented and let him go.
When he didn’t return later that day, they searched the village, but couldn’t find David.
The next day, they walked to the nearest police station to report him missing. Then they waited.
A week later, the local police chief came to their home to deliver the news: David’s dismembered body had been found, 80km away, in neighbouring Mozambique. It was badly decomposed, he told them. It couldn’t be brought to the village for burial, but he could bring the arms and legs, if they wished. And if the family could afford the journey, they could visit it where it was found.
“He was dead. What benefit was there to see his dead body?” Fletcher Machinjiri, David’s 65-year-old father, asks, dismissively. “It was too expensive for us.”
Fletcher is sitting outside his house. His 53-year-old wife, Namvaleni Lokechi, sits beside him. Her face is expressionless. Their 32-year-old daughter Mudelanji and 21-year-old son Manchinjiri sit on the hard earth a few metres away. They listen as though it is the first time they have heard the story.
“He was killed like a goat at a market,” Lokechi says, staring into the distance. “His arms and legs had been chopped off. They broke off some of his bones. His skin was hanging. And they buried him in a shallow grave.”
She makes chopping motions with her hands as she speaks.
“We cry every day,” Fletcher says. “To us, he was a ray of hope. We believed in his future. We thought he would lift our hand because he was good at school.”
“We still battle to eat without him.”
‘A war against people with albinism’
Born in 1999, David was the fourth of five siblings - and the only one to have been born with albinism.
“I wasn’t surprised when he was born,” David''s mother says softly. “I was more than happy with his complexion.”
Her tiny frame stiffens when she talks about her son.
She had an aunt in Blantyre with the same congenital disorder that results in a partial absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, she explains.
“I’ve always felt that this group of people were lucky in life,” she says slowly.
David was a star pupil at the local school in the neighbouring village of Kachule.
His teacher, Clement Gweza, recalls feeling mildly concerned when he didn’t turn up for school that Monday.
“I thought maybe there were no groceries at home, or maybe he was unwell,” Clement says, sitting inside his empty classroom. “But the second day [he didn’t turn up] … then I got worried.”
When he learned what had happened to David, he says, he was shocked. “It meant I was next,” he says, placing his hands on his chest.
For Clement also has albinism.
So, too, does 14-year-old Latida Macho, another pupil at the school. She is one of five siblings with the condition. After David’s murder, her family refused to send her to school for three weeks.
“If this is war against people with albinism, then it means I’m second in line,” Clement reflects.
He says he knew that people with albinism were being murdered, but “for it to happen in the district, but also in my class, it was unreal”.
Within days, two men were arrested for the murder. Both Malawians, they were tried in a district court in May 2016 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit a crime and abduction.
* Access the complete multimedia feature story via the link below.

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Lake Chad conflict: alarming surge in number of children used in Boko Haram bomb attacks this year
by Marie-Pierre Poirier
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa
8 May, 2017
Chibok schoolgirls: 82 girls released by Boko Haram. (Reuters)
A group of 82 girls held captive for three years by Islamist militants have met Nigeria''s President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja, a day after they were released in exchange for several militants, officials say.
"I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom," Mr Buhari told the girls surrounding him in his residency. "On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you," he told the girls.
The girls were among a group of 276 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014 by the militant group Boko Haram, which has waged an eight year insurgency killing thousands of civilians and forcing more than 2 million from their homes.
The Government secured the release with mediation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In Chibok, the remote town in north-eastern Nigeria where the girls were abducted from, families were nervously waiting for names of those freed to be published.
"Many of the parents of the girls are anxious about the identities of the girls," said Maina Mohammed, uncle of one of the abducted girls.
Although the kidnapping of the Chibok girls caught global attention, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of women and children who remain held in captivity.
12 April 2017
The number of children used in ‘suicide’ attacks in the Lake Chad conflict has surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, compared to nine over the same period last year, UNICEF said in a new report released today.
“In the first three months of this year, the number of children used in bomb attacks is nearly the same as the whole of last year – this is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” says Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
The increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents, according to the report Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis. So far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017. Girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks.
As a consequence, girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” says Poirier. “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”
Released three years after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, the report provides troubling accounts by children who were held in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram, and shows how these children are met with deep suspicion when they return to their communities.
In interviews, many children who have been associated with Boko Haram report that they keep their experience secret because they fear the stigmatization and even violent reprisals from their community. Some are compelled to bear their horrors in silence as they remove themselves from other groups for fear they might be outed and stigmatized.
The report also highlights the challenges that local authorities face with children who have been intercepted at checkpoints and taken into administrative custody for questioning and screening, raising concerns about the prolonged periods of custody.
In 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries. The release of more than 200 children by Nigerian authorities on the 10th of April is a positive step towards the protection of children affected by the ongoing crisis.
UNICEF calls on parties to the conflict to commit to the following actions to protect children in the region:
End grave violations against children by Boko Haram including the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as so-called ‘suicide bombers’.
Move children from a military to civilian environment as quickly as possible. Children who have been taken into custody solely for their alleged or actual association to armed groups should be immediately handed-over to civilian authorities for reintegration and support. Handover protocols should be in place in each of the four countries for children encountered during military operations.
Provide care and protection for separated and unaccompanied children. All children affected by the crisis need psychosocial support and safe spaces to recover.
In 2016, UNICEF reached over 312,000 children with psychosocial support in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and reunited more than 800 children with their families.
UNICEF is working with communities and families to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.
In a crisis that has displaced more than 1.3 million children, UNICEF also supports local authorities to provide safe water and life-saving health services; restore access to education by creating temporary learning spaces; and deliver therapeutic treatment to malnourished children. However, the response to this crisis remains severely underfunded. Last year, UNICEF’s US$154 million appeal for the Lake Chad Basin was only 40 per cent funded.
* UNICEF is responding to an unprecedented number of major humanitarian emergencies facing children and their families around the world. Here journalists can find the most recent news and resources on children caught in these crises, UNICEF’s response and key contacts in each region:

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