Israel has joined a UN fight to develop a mechanism to protect albinos in African countries.
The rate of albinos is significantly higher in Africa than the rest of the world and many albinos suffer persecution because they are considered cursed or thought to bring bad luck.
According UNICEF, at least 74 albinos have been murdered since the year 2000. Several others were attacked while others have had their ribs cut because of claims their organs conceal supernatural powers. There are also reports of people who have dug up albinos' graves and stole body parts in order to sell them.
In Tanzania, albinos are called "ghosts" and "zero zero" – nicknames for people who are considered less than human.
In rural areas in Africa, albinos are considered demons and evil spirits and sometimes perceived as the "spirit of European colonialists" or possessing evil spirits. In addition, there is a myth that their limbs can be used in pagan rituals to bring prosperity and wealth.
Another belief that has spread in Africa is that sexual relations with an albino woman could cure AIDS. This myth has led to the rape of albino women and increased the spreading of AIDS – especially in Zimbabwe.
The albino population in Africa has been marginalized in the past and never received international protection from the UN as it was difficult to categorize them as disabled or regard them as racially discriminated against.
"There was no mechanism that enabled their protection," says Omer Caspi, the Israeli representative to the UN Human Rights Council. "There is a large lack of data regarding the extent of this phenomenon and there is a great need to gather information."
The Human Rights Council decided to appoint an independent expert to deal solely with the issue as part of the first phase of finding a solution. The expert will gather data to use as a basis to take actions that will protect albinos.
In addition to Israel, several other countries supported the decision to protect albinos in Africa, including Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Portugal. An additional 26 countries added their support after the UN Human Rights Council session.
Israel served as a benefactor for the decision and as such lobbied on behalf of the imitative and participated in the diplomatic negotiations on the wording of the decision that was passed.
In recent years, Israel has granted asylum to two African albinos: One of them a young girl from the Ivory Coast and the other an albino man from Nigeria.
Israel also supported an effort to create a photo exhibition of albinos in Africa that was featured at the UN in Geneva.
"We are very sensitive to manifestations of discrimination and that was behind our decision to grant them asylum and also to help the lobby in promoting the decision in Geneva," says Caspi. "We feel a sense of obligation to deal with this cruel phenomenon. We are happy that we were able to help and will examine additional ways to aid them."