Tanzanian lawmaker breaks down while pleading for albinos

Thursday June 28 2012

Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS) volunteer carries an albino toddler. Photo/FILE

Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS) volunteer carries an albino toddler. Photo/FILE 

By AFP

A Tanzanian lawmaker broke down in tears in parliament Thursday as she pleaded the cause of fellow albinos, persecuted and regularly targeted for ritual killings in the region.

Al-Shaymaa Kwegyr told the house that when albinos are targeted, little is done to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

"When other people are killed or mistreated investigations are conducted swiftly and culprits brought to justice... but with albinos it can take years or decades," she told parliament.

Kwegyr said that in the past few years almost 80 albinos have died in ritual killings, and many others have been raped.

"We are always living in fear. What sins have we committed to be treated like this?" she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Albinism is a genetic condition characterised by a deficiency of melanin pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes which protects from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

People suffering from the condition are discriminated against and persecuted in many African countries.

In Tanzania, they are killed and dismembered due to a widespread belief that charms made from their body parts bring good fortune and prosperity.

Many of the murders have occurred around the country's northern Mwanza region.

Such ritual killings have also occurred in neighbouring Burundi and some of the attackers are suspected to be from Tanzania, where albino body parts can fetch thousands of dollars.

Kwegyr was sworn in in 2008, becoming Tanzania's first albino MP, and was appointed by the president.

In 2010 the east African nation got its first elected albino lawmaker Salum Khalfani Bar'wani who won the southern Tanzania Lindi Town constituency seat.