Rights of Persons with Albinism

Honourable senators, I share the sentiments of Senator Andreychuk and yesterday Senator Scott Tannas. It’s disturbing to read this, but it’s important.

Honourable senators, I was completely unaware of the horrors endured by African albinos until a pamphlet or small card was thrust in front of us on our Canada-Africa trip in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A middle-aged man with albinism urged us to read the information on the pamphlet, and he was looking over his shoulder as though he were being hunted. Senator Andreychuk was with me that day, and I know she, too, was affected by what we learned.

In Tanzania, followers of witchcraft believe they will attain wealth and happiness by drinking a potion with the blood or ground organs and limbs of albinos — that was hard to say. Witch doctors market this belief, promoting hatred against albinos. Babies, children, women and men in Tanzania are seized and have their limbs cut off while they are still alive. Others are murdered. Neighbours betray neighbours; husbands betray wives; friends betray friends. The harvest of a single limb can bring in about $2,000 U.S., with an entire body reportedly garnering as much as $75,000.

Senator Andreychuk and I met Vicky Ntetema during our visit, as she mentioned. In 2007, as a freelance contributor to the BBC, she investigated and produced stories exposing the corruption and financial motivations of witch doctors and others in Tanzania, her home country. Her fine work resulted in threats against her life, forcing her to go into hiding. Since 2010, she has been executive director of media and international affairs for Under The Same Sun, an organization supporting people with albinism who are disadvantaged and marginalized.

The founder of Under The Same Sun is a Canadian, Peter Ash, who has albinism. Through his organization, he is carrying out an information program to undo unfair and false stereotypes about albinism.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution naming June 13, 2015, the inaugural International Albinism Awareness Day.

We cannot possibly turn our backs on the crisis that is taking place in Tanzania. It is a human crisis, rendering borders and distances meaningless. It’s happening in other African countries.

Honourable senators, along with Senators Tannas and Andreychuk, I encourage you to find out more about albinism and the UN’s resolution. It is a good starting point for righting wrongs inflicted on a vulnerable population within East Africa.