On the 13th June 2018, UN Malawi hosted a high-level meeting on albinism in Lilongwe with the participation of the Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice, Dr Janet Banda, the Judiciary, the Malawi Police Service, the Disability Department, the Association of Persons with Albinism and the UN family.
The meeting aimed to take stock of progress in the criminal justice response and generate renewed commitment in accelerating and prosecuting cases related to attacks on persons with albinism, including through innovative and practical solutions and ideas that will contribute towards advancing the rights of persons with albinism. The meeting also served to commemorate International Albinism Awareness Day (IAAD), focusing on those who have been attacked and lost their lives as a result of albinism.
The UN Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres recalled that the UN family in Malawi has worked intensively since 2016 to strengthen the protection of the rights of persons with albinism, including supporting the elaboration and implementation of the national response plan on albinism, now called a National Action Plan on Albinism.
“By working in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders, the UN has strengthened community based protection mechanisms, advocacy and awareness raising on the rights of persons with albinism,” said Torres. “We have also supported investigations and prosecutions, a study on investigated and prosecuted cases, and an audit of all cases reported to the police.
Besides, she said the UN has supported law reform, training of prosecutors and investigators, education and health interventions and capacity building and training for the Association of Persons with Albinism (APAM).
The UN Resident Coordinator welcomed the fact that the rate of new attacks against persons with albinism has fallen since 2016 and that awareness on albinism has been strengthened by various stakeholders.
In total, 145 incidents related to crimes against persons with albinism have been reported to the police since 2014, many of them against women and children, and 45 have been completed. There have been no convictions for murder of people with albinism, hence the meeting also aimed to generate renewed commitment and immediate steps to address this.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Senior Assistant Chief State Advocate, Dzikondianthu Malunda, made a presentation on the strengthened legal framework in Malawi noting the recent amendments to the Penal Code Amendment Act and Anatomy Amendment Act, with stronger penalties for those that attack persons with albinism. He recalled past challenges particularly funding.
Malawi Police Service National Child Protection Officer, Alexander Ngwala, also made a presentation recalling trends in attacks on persons with albinism on a yearly basis, with 2015 registering the highest number of reported crimes.
APAM National Coordinator Boniface Massah, said persons with albinism are losing confidence in the criminal justice system given the failure to prosecute murder cases and protect victims and witnesses, citing a number of cases including the recent killing of Macdonald Masambuka. He noted that, in the past five years, Malawi has registered 24 percent of all reported crimes against persons with albinism in Africa.
Malawi High Court Judge, Justice Redson Kapindu, in presenting the study on investigated and prosecuted cases of attacks on and killings of persons with albinism, said in all the criminal cases, none of the victims were over 25 years. He said only one case had been concluded before the High Court.
Justice Kapindu also said there is also an urgent need for more training of prosecutors and investigators using the Handbook, developed with the support of the UN, noting that magistrates and prosecutors continued to erroneously apply the old law.
“It is of utmost importance that the Judiciary should urgently issue sentencing guidelines, and promote the assignment of cases to higher courts especially for purposes of stiffer sentencing in cases where Magistrates have jurisdiction. There is need for both investigative, prosecuting and judicial authorities to be furnished with more financial and mobility resources,” reads part of Justice Kapindu’s presentation.
He said the Regional Action Plan encourages the appointment of a Special Prosecutor for cases concerning persons with albinism, underlining the need for more training among Police investigators and prosecutors on specialized aspects of investigations and evidence gathering and leading of evidence, such as the handling of DNA evidence.
Further, he said there is an urgent need for Malawi to negotiate extradition treaties with all its three neighbours, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, saying Malawi also needs to adopt a Policy on support for victims of violation.
“There is also a need for continuous education of communities to eliminate superstitious myths against persons with albinism. The process of investigation and prosecution cannot be divorced from focusing on the effects of the attacks on the victims. The study therefore affirms the recommendations of the Regional Action Plan that there must be psycho-social, medical, legal and socioeconomic support to rebuild the lives, for both victims, and surviving relatives, and that the State should ensure that these are available at community level.
“Police investigations should also focus on more established target markets for tissue of persons with albinism beyond targeting merely the primary attackers and primary possessors of human tissue of persons with albinism. Special legislation should be developed sanctioning the Police and the Human Rights Commission to visit and search without notice places where professing witch-doctors are undertaking their business/work to ensure that they do not, at any given time, possess human tissue,” said Justice Kapindu.
In the ensuing discussion, the Chairperson of the Social and Community Affairs Committee of Parliament, Hon. Richard Chimwendo Banda highlighted concerns in the lack of progress with cases before the courts and investigations. He questioned who in Malawi currently has the power to close police files given that a significant number of police files concerning crimes against persons with albinism had been closed.
He also called for the introduction of a special court in Malawi to hear such cases, adding that the Social and Community Affairs, Legal Affairs, and Defence and Security committees of Malawi Parliament intend to institute a joint public inquiry on the issue of attacks and killings of persons with albinism.
The Police however said no case had been closed, indicating they would proceed with the stagnant cases should new leads on the cases come to their attention.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Solicitor General committed to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to prioritise such cases and also to ask the Attorney General to agree extradition treaties with Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi. The Ministry of Justice committed to finalise the investigation into the Macdonald Masambuka case within the coming month.