CRPD Finds Violence Based on Albinism Discriminatory
In a recent opinion, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) held that Tanzania’s failure to protect an individual with albinism from violence and discrimination constitutes a violation of the country’s obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). [OHCHR Press Release] See Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. X v. Tanzania, Communication No. 22/2014, Views of 31 August 2017, UN Doc. CRPD/C/18/D/22/2014, paras. 8.1-8.7. The case concerned a man who was attacked and dismembered by men who targeted him due to his albinism. [OHCHR Press Release] Although the victim claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators, Tanzanian prosecutors dropped his case and failed to continue their investigation. [OHCHR Press Release] See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 2.2. In its August 31, 2017 communication, the CRPD held that failing to investigate and prosecute an attack resulting in dismemberment as the result of the victim’s albinism constitutes discrimination based on a disability in violation of the ICRPD. See id. at paras. 8.1-8.4. In addition to a violation of the right to non-discrimination under Article 5 of the ICRPD, the Committee also held that Tanzania violated the rights to prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and to personal integrity under articles 15 and 17 of the Convention, respectively. See id. at paras. 8.5-8.7. Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world, and people with albinism in the country frequently face various forms of violence and discrimination, both of which are often conducted with impunity. See Human Rights Council, Resolution 28/75, Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism, UN Doc. A/HRC/28/75, 10 February 2015, paras. 18, 26-34.
The victim, who wished to remain anonymous in the CRPD’s decision, is a Tanzanian farmer living in the Morogoro Region of Tanzania. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 2.1. On April 10, 2010, the victim was fetching firewood in the bush when he was knocked unconscious by two of his neighbors. See id. at para. 2.2. The victim awoke alone in the bush to find that the two men had hacked off half of his left arm. See id.
After being treated at the local hospital, the victim reported the events to the local police. See id. at para. 2.2. However, the State failed to prosecute the perpetrators, even though the victim was willing and able to identify the men who committed the violence. See id. at para. 2.2.
In addition to being denied justice in the criminal system, the victim was also unable to bring a civil case for reparations against the perpetrators of the violence. [OHCHR Press Release] Given that the victim, once a farmer, had lost the use of his arm, he did not possess the money or the means to travel to the nearest civil court, which is 300 kilometers away from where he lives. [OHCHR Press Release] See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 1. Unable to pursue justice in either the civil or criminal systems, the victim brought his case before the CRPD in 2014. See id. at paras. 1-2.5.
The Committee’s Decision
In his complaint, the victim alleged that by failing to prosecute the perpetrators, Tanzania violated Article 5 (right to equality and non-discrimination), Article 15 (right to freedom from torture), and Article 17 (right to respect for personal integrity) of the ICRPD. [OHCHR Press Release] The victim alleged that Tanzania violated his right to non-discrimination because the State has failed to prevent attacks based on albinism, which the victim argues should be considered a disability due to the physical impairments and conditions that often result from albinism. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 3.1. The victim additionally argued that the dismemberment he suffered subjected him to torture and inhuman treatment and to injuries to his dignity and personal integrity. See id. at paras. 3.2 and 3.3. The CRPD agreed with the victim, finding that Tanzania violated articles 5, 15, and 17 of the ICRPD due to its failure to prevent attacks on persons due to albinism. See id. at paras. 8.1-8.7.
Article 5: Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination
The CRPD first held that Tanzania violated Article 5 of the ICRPD (right to equality and non-discrimination). Under Article 5 of the ICRPD, States must ensure that all individuals are treated equally under the law and that all individuals are provided equal protection of the law without discrimination. See Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (adopted 13 December 2006, entered into force 3 May 2008) 2515 UNTS 3 (ICRPD), art. 5. The CRPD stated that Article 5 requires States parties to take all reasonable steps to promote equality and eliminate discrimination. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 8.3. The CRPD found that Tanzania’s failure to adopt any measures to prevent this common form of violence against persons with albinism placed “[the victim] and other persons with albinism in a situation of particular vulnerability.” See id. at para. 8.4. The CRPD also noted that Tanzania had failed to take any measures to provide support for the victim. See id. at para. 8.4. Because Tanzania neglected to take steps to address these issues, both in the victim’s case and more broadly in the country, the CRPD concluded that Tanzania violated the right to non-discrimination under Article 5 of the ICRPD. See id. at para. 8.4.
Article 15: Right to Freedom from Torture
Even though the violence was committed by non-State actors, the CRPD nonetheless found that Tanzania violated its obligations to prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. See id. at para. 8.6. Under Article 15 of the ICRPD, States parties have an obligation to prevent individuals from suffering torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. See ICRPD, art. 15. The CRPD reiterated that Tanzania’s obligation to prevent and punish torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment applies to the actions of both State and non-State actors. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, at para. 8.6. Because the victim’s suffering constituted “psychological torture and/or ill-treatment,” the CRPD concluded that Tanzania’s failure to seek effective prosecution of the perpetrators violated the State’s obligations to prevent and punish torture. See id.
Article 17: Right to Respect for Personal Integrity
The CRPD found that the violence suffered by the victim due to his albinism affected his physical and mental integrity, and thus clearly falls within the scope of Article 17. See id. at para. 8.7. Under Article 17 of the ICRPD, “every person with disabilities has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others.” See ICRPD, art. 17. The CRPD read Article 17 in conjunction with Article 4 of the ICRPD, the latter of which places an obligation on States parties to take all necessary measures to ensure and promote the full realization of human rights for persons with disabilities, including the right to integrity. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 8.7. Because Tanzania failed to take any measures to prevent and punish these acts of violence, and because Tanzania did not take steps to support the author to again live independently, the CRPD concluded that Tanzania violated its obligations under Article 17 read in conjunction with Article 4 to ensure the right to personal integrity. See id.
The Committee’s Concluding Recommendations
The CRPD made several recommendations to Tanzania with the hope of improving the situation of both the victim as well as others with albinism in the country. See id. at para. 9. The CRPD recommends that Tanzania provide an effective remedy for the victim, which would provide him with the compensation needed to resume living independently; conduct an effective investigation and prosecute the perpetrators of the incident; and publish and disseminate the CRPD’s decision in the case. See id.
The CRPD also recommends that Tanzania follow the recommendations of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism to prevent similar incidents and violations. To that end, the CRPD recommends that Tanzania review and revise domestic law to account for attacks against persons with albinism; ensure prompt investigation and prosecution of attacks against persons with albinism; criminalize the use of body parts in witchcraft; and engage in long-lasting awareness-raising campaigns to help end discriminatory ideas about albinism. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 9.
Albinism in Tanzania
The CRPD acknowledged the history of discrimination and violence against those with albinism in Tanzania. See id. at para. 2.3. Tanzania has one of the highest rates of albinism in the world estimated at one in 1,400 people. See Human Rights Council, Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism, para. 9. The CRPD recognized that many forms of discrimination against those with albinism are grounded in myths and local legends. See CRPD, Mr. X v. Tanzania, para. 2.3. Some believe that persons with albinism are a curse from god or ghosts, and others believe that the limbs of albino individuals will bring good luck. See id.; see Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism: a preliminary survey on the root causes of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism, UN Doc. A/71/255, 29 July 2016, paras. 7, 8, 17. These beliefs and practices of witchcraft contribute to discrimination, violence, and attacks against those with albinism and can lead to isolation, poverty, lack of access to education, trauma, and increased infanticide. See id. at paras. 2, 24-27, 30.
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To read more about the work of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, visit IJRC’s independent expert page.