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Motion to Take Note of Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association’s Resolution Concerning the Rights of Persons with Albinism adopted

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk, pursuant to notice of June 11, 2015, moved:

That the Senate:

 (a) take note of the resolution adopted by the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association on

June 3, 2015, and tabled in the Senate on June 11, 2015, concerning the rights of persons with

albinism, who are subject to widespread discrimination, and whose body parts have been

used in witchcraft, exposing them to murder and mutilation; and

 

(b) encourage all parliamentarians to

          (i) exercise their influence within their communities with a view to combatting prejudice and

              disinformation with respect to albinism and people with albinism,

           (ii) educate their fellow citizens with respect to the multiple layers of human rights

                challenges including social marginalization, medical and psychological problems, and c

                onfinement to poverty affecting people with albinism, and

            (iii) advocate tolerance and adherence to the rule of law to ensure the rights and safety of

                 persons with albinism and exercise extra vigilance in the lead-up to elections.

 

She said: Honourable senators, albinism is a congenital condition. It affects members of all

genders and races in every country in the world. People with albinism lack melanin. This results in

the lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. People with albinism are vulnerable to the sun and

bright light and almost always suffer from visual impairment.

 

Today I will speak only briefly on this motion as I have spoken in a senator’s statement.

A number of senators from both sides have already given their statements about the murder and

mutilation of persons with albinism, especially in East Africa. 

Last Thursday in the Senate I tabled this resolution upholding the rights of persons with albinism.

Colleagues have also highlighted the plight of persons with albinism and our resolution in the other 

place. Our work on this matter is part of a growing awareness about the human rights abuses

suffered by persons with albinism as part of a growing international call to action.

 

In recent years, stories about murders, rapes, infanticides and dismemberments of persons with

albinism have been met with widespread condemnation. A February 2015 report of the

United Nations Human Rights Council notes that as of October 2014, over 340 attacks against

persons with albinism, including 134 killings, have been recorded in 25 countries. Many of these

killings are linked to a lucrative harvest of albino body parts for use in witchcraft. These

practices are especially common in the impoverished regions surrounding Lake Victoria.

 

As Tanzanian albino rights campaigner Josephat Torner explained:

        People with albinism are being killed because of superstition.

        Their body parts are used, and people believe they can become rich if they do so.

        So people started to hunt us like we are animals. People started to chop us because they want

         to become rich.

Isaac Timothy, another albino activist, said:

        When you bring [a witch doctor] a body part, such as an arm, a leg or a finger, the witch

        doctor will make a potion with it. A miner will pour it in the ground where he wants to

        find minerals or a fisherman will pour it in his canoe.

   

According to official figures, at least 75 albinos have been murdered in Tanzania alone in the last  

10 years. Campaigners believe the real number to be much higher. I could perhaps relate

the stories of many of the people who have campaigned, but I think it is within the record. I believe

this should be the start of the Senate’s record of supporting people with albinism and

making sure that Canada is at the forefront of encouraging education and encouraging the ending of

this practice of using albino parts particularly by politicians as elections appear, as appears to be

the case in some countries.

 

Under the Same Sun, as the organization is called, is based in Vancouver. It is founded by Peter

Ash, who is helped by his brother Paul. Both brothers have albinism. Peter explains his vision with

these simple words:

        I have a dream that one day people with albinism will take their rightful place throughout every

        level of society, and that the days of discrimination against persons with albinism will be a faint

        memory EVERYWHERE!

        Peter, Paul, and those who work within Canada and Africa and around the world do important

        work. They use awareness and education to secure the safety and well-being of people with

        albinism.

 

Grace Wabanhu, a 26-year-old albino from Northern Tanzania  who works with the Under the

Same Sun group, explains the impact of this approach: 

        People didn’t know what is albinism. But, after explaining to them they came to think, ‘‘Hah,

        this is a normal person like others.’’ So it’s because of ignorance. People don’t know.

 

Much more must still be done. Key to these efforts is the active involvement of parliamentarians,

yet there is some evidence that politicians are among those fuelling the illicit trade in albino parts.

Late last month, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Minister, Pereira Silima, told the

National Assembly of Tanzania that numbers show a rise in attacks on persons with albinism

during elections. She said:

        I want to assure my fellow politicians that there won’t be any parliamentary seat that will be

        won as a result of using albino body parts.

 

Vicky Ntetema is an award-winning former BBC journalist, who, eight years ago, first exposed

the use of albino parts in witchcraft by politicians in Tanzania at, I must say, great risk to herself.

Today she serves as the executive director of Under the Same Sun. In a recent Facebook post, she

made the following appeal:

        I call upon you African leaders to wipe the tears of mothers of persons with albinism who

        suffer from stigma and discrimination because they have children with the genetic condition!

        I call upon you African leaders to console grieving mothers whose children have been

        mutilated and murdered so that their body parts can be used by witchdoctors to make their

        clients successful!

 

Tanzania has imposed a ban on witchcraft to try to stem the harvest of albino parts for use in

lucky charms and spells. Some 30 witch doctors have been arrested. Others, such as the

governments of Malawi and Namibia, are also adopting measures to end attacks against people with

albinism, but more efforts are needed to effect a change in popular attitudes.

 

Parliamentarians must exercise their influence within their communities to combat prejudice and

disinformation. Parliamentarians must educate themselves and their fellow citizens about the multiple

layers of human rights challenges confronted by persons with albinism. Parliamentarians must

become advocates for tolerance and the rule of law, especially in the lead-up to elections.

This is the  essence of the motion before the Senate today. It is a strong reflection of the

parliamentary  diplomacy that is so central to our work as senators and as Canadian

parliamentarians.

 

Attacks and discrimination affect people with albinism, not only in Africa but around the world.

We, as parliamentarians, must be part of the process of encouraging our colleagues, in

parliaments everywhere, to fight ignorance. Parliamentarians must raise awareness and stand up for

the human rights of people with albinism.

 

I urge all senators to support this motion. It is as a result of the work of the Canada-Africa

Parliamentary Association, which has raised this concern in its work in Africa, and comes with the

full knowledge, on the ground, that our work with our colleagues is absolutely necessary to help

people with albinism to reclaim their rightful place as human beings, as individuals in society, with the

respect and dignity that they deserve.