The US House of Representatives last week passed legislation that highlights albino killings in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa and calls on governments in the region to take action to stop the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The law sponsored by US congressman Gerry Connolly (Democrat-Virginia) was passed by the House on Wednesday with a vote of 418 to 1.
The Connolly bill has a compelling story behind it about the ordeal of a brave young Tanzanian woman with albinism who faced horror and loss of her limbs at the hands of profit-seeking criminals in her own village.
Connolly’s legislation – H.R. 1088 – moved through the House committee process in less than two months and passed the House with broad bipartisan support by an almost unanimous vote.
The Northern Virginia congressman introduced the bill in mid-January after meeting Mariamu Stanford, a young woman with albinism from a rural Tanzanian village who had both her arms hacked off by villagers who then sold them for profit.
Rural witchdoctors in the region believe the limbs of those with albinism have supernatural properties and can be mixed in potions to bring the buyer good luck. The limbs are sold for as much as $2,000 each, something of a king’s ransom in East Africa.
More than 100 persons with albinism have been murdered in Tanzania and other parts of East Africa by profit-seeking criminals.
The horrors faced by Mariamu and the murders of other albinos were brought to congressman Connolly’s attention by Northern Virginia residents concerned about the butchering of innocent men, women, and children albinos.
Speaking on the House floor last Tuesday, Connolly urged his colleagues "to join me and Mariamu Stanford in bringing international attention to this horrific abuse of human rights.”
He said his meeting with Mariamu and local families concerned about her plight and albinism in general “has moved me to take action.”
Connolly’s legislation condemns the murder and mutilation of people with albinism in East Africa and urges governments in the region, particularly the governments of Tanzania and Burundi, to take immediate action to prevent further violence against persons with albinism.
The law also calls for swift justice against those found to be engaged in such reprehensible practices, and urges governments in East Africa - along with international organizations, other donors, and the United States - to actively support the education of people with albinism about the prevention of skin cancer and provide appropriate levels of assistance.
It further urges the US to assist the governments of East Africa and other organizations to seek elimination of violence against people with albinism.
Connolly said Mariamu Stanford’s story “is one of fear, horror, and unbelievable courage that epitomizes the untold horrors men, women, and children with albinism have faced – and continue to face – in East Africa.”
Along with the Mariamu ordeal, Connolly related two other stories of murders in East Africa to his House colleagues:
He brought up the November 2008 case of a 6-year old albino girl who was shot dead in Burundi’s eastern province of Ruyigi, close to the border with Tanzania. Her attackers removed her head and limbs, leaving only her dismembered torso.
Also, he narrated, in January last year, three men armed with machetes killed an 8-year old boy in Burundi and smuggled his limbs to Tanzania.
“Every one of these stories border on the unbelievable and, quite frankly, turn my stomach as I hope they do yours,” Connolly told the House, adding:
“I applaud the dedicated group of local residents who brought Mariamu’s story and the stories of other atrocities against people with albinism in East Africa to my attention. With their help and the passage of this resolution today, maybe we can bring an end to these horrific and heinous crimes.”