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A call for an end and a holistic response to attacks on persons with albinism: The MacDonald Masambuka case

By 23 March 2018September 26th, 2023Equality Rights, Equality Rights Disability, Equality Rights News, Malawi6 min read

We the undersigned organizations hereby express our deep concern over the continuing attacks on people with albinism in Malawi and generally in the Southern African region. We have taken note of and endorsed the statement issued by the Human Rights Defenders Forum- a Coalition of Malawi CSOs- calling on the Malawi authorities to urgently investigate the disappearance of Macdonald Masambuka on 9 March. The latest case of the disappearance of MacDonald, a young man with albinism, aged 22 years, on 9 March 2018 at Mbawa Trading centre, Nakawa village in Southern Malawi, is reflective of a persistent problem requiring holistic interventions from all stakeholders that include the State, local CSOs and regional and international partners.

Mark was last seen at Nakawa Village, Nkoola Authority, in Machinga District, in Southern Malawi near the common border with Mozambique on 9 March. He had gone to the market to purchase a mat at the trading centre in the company of a friend who is currently assisting the police with investigations. He has not been seen since then. We understand that two persons have been arrested in connection with the case, and we look forward to the conclusion of investigations and if there is sufficient admissible evidence, for anyone suspected to be responsible to be brought to justice.

The case of Masambuka is not an isolated, random case but exemplifies a wider systemic problem in Malawi and across the sub-region. During the same week that Mark went missing, authorities in Mpumalanga province, South Africa discovered a grave that was dug within two days of the burial of a person with albinism. Some of his body parts were missing and an inquest in that case is now currently ongoing. That this is a continental problem is quite apparent, based on the considerable amount of research done that estimates that about 200 killings and more than 600 attacks on people with albinism have been recorded across 27 sub-Saharan African countries in the past decade.

We note that a number of multi-pronged country-level, regional and international efforts have been initiated to curb the attacks on persons with albinism. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed, for the first time, a UN Independent Expert on human rights of persons with albinism in May 2015. The UN Expert has since carried out a country visit to Malawi and observed first hand, the magnitude of the problem. The UN expert has also contributed to and supported the Africa multi-stakeholder forum that resulted in the adoption of the Regional Action plan to end attacks on persons with albinism, 2017-2021. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has also endorsed this Regional Action plan. At national levels, governments and CSOs in countries such as Malawi and Tanzania are working on various counter-measures to combat abductions, killings and trafficking of body parts of persons with albinism. For example, the Malawi president launched the Malawi response plan in 2015 to combat attacks on people with Albinism. Whilst we commend these multi-pronged interventions, we believe more should be done to curb the attacks on people with albinism.

We note that the attacks on persons with albinism violate their enjoyment of a range of rights enshrined in national constitutions and regional and international human rights treaties and standards. We therefore question why these attacks continue, given the protection guaranteed via the human rights instruments that place legal obligations on States to respect, protect, promote and fulfil their human rights.

We are thus calling for the adoption of a multi-stakeholders, rights-based strategy that confronts and debunks the anachronistic and ritualistic beliefs that fuel the attacks on people with albinism.

In particular, we make the following recommendations:

  • We call on the Government of Malawi to urgently investigate the case of Macdonald Masambuka and other similar pending cases and bring to justice the suspected perpetrators. We further urge the government to enhance its judicial and administrative framework to combat attacks on persons with albinism. This includes ensuring a well-resourced criminal justice system capable of thoroughly and effectively investigating the cases, and where there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecuting suspected perpetrators.
  • We encourage the Government of Malawi to give full effect to the Response Plan of 2015 launched by the President, in letter and in spirit, including ensuring that the Task Force for combating attacks on People with albinism is effective.
  • We encourage the CSOs in Malawi to work with communities, government and other technical partners to articulate and spread messages that educate, and debunk the outdated myths on albinism within communities.
  • We urge the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism to remain seized with the situation in Malawi and work closely with the government, CSOs and technical partners to implement a holistic strategy to combat attacks on people with albinism.
  • We urge States to adopt domestic policy, legislative and administrative measures in line with the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa, 2017-2021 to address discrimination, killings and attacks on persons with albinism.
  • We urge States to adopt regional joint and cooperative strategies that address the trans-boundary nature of the attacks on people with albinism.
  • We call on SADC states to pass a resolution during the forthcoming Summit that condemns attacks on persons with albinism and urges states to jointly address the problem.
  • We urge the ACHPR to engage other AU organs and bodies in order to give due regard to the Regional Action Plan within their mandates
  • We further urge the Commission to assign a focal point within its mechanisms, formulate concrete actions and assign resources, in order to ensure the effective promotion of the Regional Action Plan.
  • We urge the ACHPR to consider the development of guidelines to guide States on measures to combat attacks on people with albinism.
  • We invite the Pan African Parliament to adopt a resolution endorsing the Regional Action Plan on albinism and to urge member states to domesticate the Action Plan to address discrimination, killings and attacks on persons with albinism.


Signatory organisations

  • Association for Secular Humanism (ASH)
  • Amnesty International
  • Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM)
  • Centre for Development of People (Cedep)
  • Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
  • Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)
  • Child Rights Information and Documentation (CRIDOC)
  • Citizens Forum for the Defense of Good Governance (CFDGG)
  • Civil Society Network on Transparency and Accountability (CSNTA)
  • CiZC Regional Advocacy Office
  • Coalition Against Violence of Women and Girls
  • Foundation for Children’s Rights
  • Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  • Just Associates Southern Africa
  • Knowledge of the Laws of the Land (KNOLL)
  • Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC)
  • Malawi Human Rights Youth Network (MHRYN)
  • Malawi Law Society (MLS)
  • Northern Region Chapter Human Rights Defenders (NRHRDs)
  • Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  • Outreach Scout Foundation (OSF)
  • The Pan African Citizens Network
  • Public Affairs Committee (PAC)
  • Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network
  • Southern African Litigation Centre
  • Southern African People’s Solidarity Network
  • Women Lawyers Association (WLA)
  • Youth and Society (YAS)
  • Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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