Growing up as an albino in Canada, Peter Ash (pictured) had to endure taunts like “Snowflake” and “Snow White.”
Once, when he was squinting to read a padlock — most albinos have vision problems, too — someone rammed his head into his school locker. Another time, he was forced to play baseball and never saw the pitch that hit him in the face.
But it was all bearable, he said, because his mother told him God had made him that way. He grew up to be a Baptist minister, then gave that up to start a finance company in Vancouver that did very well.
Last spring, he said, he began to hear about albinos in Tanzania being murdered for their body parts. More than 40 have been killed since 2007, sometimes right in front of their families, by gangs of men who hack off legs, heads or genitals and run away with them.
In the last two years, rumors have spread in East Africa that potions made with albino blood, shoes made of albino skin, tendrils of albino hair woven into fishing nets and amulets with albino body parts will make people rich.
Traditional healers have told an undercover BBC reporter posing as a businesswoman that they could get her an albino corpse for $2,000.
Mr. Ash was horrified.
“You know that Edmund Burke quote, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’ ?” he said. “I decided not to do nothing.”
Last year, Mr. Ash founded Under the Same Sun, a charity devoted to defending albinos and to embarrassing the Tanzanian government into stopping the killings.
He was at the United Nations this month, accompanied by Josephat Torner and Samwel Mluge, both albinos who run the Tanzania office of the charity. They want the United Nations to pressure the country to appoint a special prosecutor for the killings; more than 170 people have been arrested, but none have been brought to trial. They also want the army sent to impose martial law in the northern provinces where most of the killings have taken place. They do not trust the police; several officers are among those arrested.
Ideally, they would like guarded camps, like one Burundi has started, where albinos can take refuge. But because Tanzania has an estimated 170,000 albinos, it would be a huge undertaking. Albinism is common among East Africans; 1 birth in 3,000 is albino, versus 1 in 20,000 in the United States.
With Mr. Ash’s backing, Mr. Torner organized a march against the killings, at which the country’s president made a speech threatening to hang anyone convicted of killing an albino.
That enmeshed the issue in domestic politics. On a visit to Tanzania last year, Mr. Ash accused the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the police, of not taking the killings seriously.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda took up the cause, saying that if the police did not act, vigilantes should kill would-be killers on the spot. That led to protests by human-rights groups. Now the government, worried about tourism and its image, “is trying to keep a lid on this,” Mr. Ash said.
Mr. Mluge, who lives in the capital, Dar es Salaam, told of his fear at seeing cars full of men waiting outside his house at night. He and his wife have five albino children.
In a country where the average income is $800 a year, Mr. Ash said, “that’s a lot of temptation.” When he was in the capital, standing on a corner with other albinos, young thugs started laughing and taunting them with shouts of “Deal! Deal!” — the joke being, he explained, that killing him would be a bargain.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
From The New York Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 5:48 PM