Transcript and Audio Links of December 1 Press Briefing, Violence against Persons with Disabilities in Africa:
Media Briefing with Judith Heumann,
US Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, and
Vicky Alice Ntetema, a 2016 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award
Washington D.C. & Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Thursday, December 1, 2016
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the International Disability Rights conference call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call, please press * then 0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Tiffany Jackson-Zunker. Please go ahead.
MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the continent and media gathered at our various missions in Africa. Today we are joined by Judith Heumann, U.S. Special Advisor for International Disability Rights and Vicky Alice Ntetema, journalist and 2016 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award.
Ms. Heumann and Ms. Ntetema will discuss the topic of violence against persons with disabilities, including but not limited to the murdering and mutilation of people with albinism and physical abuse against women with disabilities. Special Advisor Heumann is speaking to us from Washington D.C. and Ms. Ntetema is joining us from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
We will begin with remarks from Special Advisor Heumann followed by remarks from Ms. Ntetema and then we will open it up to your questions. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1.
For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese please submit your questions in English via e-mail to [email protected] If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #DisabilityRights and follow us on @africamediahub and @IntDisability.
Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 45 minutes. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Special Advisor Heumann.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Thank you very much. And I thank everyone for joining this call today. I’d like to give you a little bit of information about myself as we move forward into the broader discussion.
So I’m 69 years old. I had polio in the United States in 1949. I’m what would be called a quadriplegic, meaning I’m unable to walk and I used a motorized wheelchair. I think this is important to present because when looking at the issue of violence against disabled individuals, I understand very clearly the issue of people with various disabilities being dependent on other individuals and how that dependency can frequently make you vulnerable and put you at risk.
I have traveled internationally for many years and have been struck particularly over the last 10 to 15 years about how when I meet with women who have disabilities, regardless of the country that they live in, a discussion that always comes up is the issue of violence. And how violence against disabled individuals is frequently underreported and when an individual may in fact go to the police, stating that they would like to press charges, how frequently that is unable to happen because of bias, because people believe that if you have a disability, nothing like this could happen to you.
So since I’ve been at the Department of State, we have been working with offices like our Global Women’s Office, which right now actually is involved in a campaign starting today, achieving 17 goals for the future we want. And this campaign is also being inclusive of disabled individuals. We believe that it’s very important that issues affecting disabled girls and women, boys and men in the area of violence must be a part of the broader agenda. It’s an issue which must come out from secrecy to one which is being not only discussed but one which people more clearly understand and recognize that violation against disabled individuals is a human rights violation and all countries must be responsible for ensuring that such acts are in fact addressed.
Likewise, we are concerned, not just in Africa but around the world, that individuals, there is a need to be able to do more training of Police and prosecutors to enable them to understand how to more effectively work with individuals who are alleging violence. A few examples that I’d like to give you of problems that happen, I was in Mexico with our Embassy having a discussion with our consulates and one of the consulates raised the issue of a deaf woman who had been raped by a deaf man who went to press charges and the judge threw the case out because both of the individuals were deaf and the judge said they wouldn’t make good witnesses.
There was a case in the United States of a blind woman who had been raped and the prosecutor was working very closely with her. But because she was blind, the woman was not going to be able to pick someone out of a lineup. But the prosecutor worked on enabling her to listen to the voices of the people in the lineup and she was able to select from those voices, the person that she alleged had raped her. There was one of the first cases I ever heard about was a deaf woman in Pakistan who had been gang-raped and the father and she had gone to the police to try to address the issue. And nothing was done because she was deaf and she ultimately committed suicide.
So you can see that this is a pervasive problem. One of the aspects that I hope we can get into discussing today with Ms. Ntetema is speaking in some of the, not only the problems that disabled face because of stigma and discrimination and isolation and lack of education and lack of being viewed in communities in Africa and around the world as equal beings, but also to look at some of the positive activities that are going on in Africa, to address the issue of violence against disabled individuals and in some countries are the focus on addressing issues affecting individuals who are from the albinism community.
So I’d like to end now so we can continue.
MODERATOR: I’d like to ask Vicky Ntetema if she has some opening remarks before we get going.
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: Yes, thank you Tiffany, thank you Judith and all who are listening. My name is Vicky Ntetema. I work for the organization called Under the Same Sun in Tanzania which promotes the rights of persons with albinism and their wellbeing through education and advocacy and public awareness. I came across the plight of persons with albinism in Tanzania when I was at BBC World Service, Bureau Chief in Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. And at that time, persons with albinism were being murdered for their body parts and witch doctors would use their body parts to make charms for their clients so that they can win elections, they can be successful, they can have business booms and things like that.
And it was a surprise to me when I thought of persons with albinism. The only difference between them and myself is the skin color and Tanzania is a country that was at the forefront fighting with South Africa against Apartheid because of racism. And I thought that, how can we be racist now against a group of people who do not look like other people without the condition, the genetic condition.
So I decided to investigate and during the investigation that is when I found out that witch doctors are using their body parts for witchcraft purposes in order to give it to their clients. During that time I also noticed that since time in memorial, persons with disabilities have been marginalized and also they were being murdered. Some of them were being murdered at birth. Some were left in the forest in order to die. And others were thrown into lakes, ponds and any water mass in order to die. And this is because witch doctors are telling the community that persons with disabilities are a curse and they will bring all calamities in the family and also in the community.
Say for example there’s a natural disaster like floods or drought or hurricanes, they will be blamed for that. But then I also realized that persons with disabilities have been placed or are regarded as third-class citizens after women. And persons with albinism are like fourth-class citizens. And I realized that there’s more discrimination and stigma in rural areas than there is in urban areas. And I realized also where people talk about it, these things come out. The atrocities come out. The reports come out. When people do not talk about it they’re being done secretly and no report would come out, so no action would be taken.
During the years with Under the Same Sun after I left the BBC, I realized also these atrocities are being committed not only in Tanzania but in Sub-Saharan Africa. And as Judith explained also we experience here that they don’t have access to education. They don’t have access to health and also employment. But it differs, because in rural areas, you see this more prominent, these atrocities against persons with albinism. Persons with albinism are like all persons with disabilities. They don’t have any rights for example. When they go to the hospital and the person, a woman with a disability wants to give birth, sometimes they face sometime abuses from health personnel that why, that you know that you have a disability, why did you go and get yourself pregnant?
So all these I realized that persons with disabilities are marginalized. And sometimes women are raped because of disabilities and this is because the witch doctors have told their clients that if they rape women with disabilities and sometimes even men or boys with disabilities, then they will be cleansing themselves. They will be cured of infectious diseases and also they will be lucky and successful. But also I realised that there are laws, like the disability law in Tanzania. But that is not reinforced as such and especially in rural areas.
What I’ve also realized is that when you have press freedom index, when it is low, these atrocities are not reported. And in my investigation and also while I was working with Under the Same Sun, we realized that atrocities are being committed for example in other countries since 1994, 1998 in Sub-Saharan Africa. So I noticed that then it is not about Tanzania but it’s also about Sub-Saharan Africa. The so-called cultural and traditional norms, misbeliefs and misconceptions that lead to these atrocities, stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Judith also spoke about the law, justice. People don’t get justice sometimes. We had a child of under 16 years of age in Jomba, this is in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and Southwestern Tanzania, who was raped because a witch doctor told the client that go and rape that child who was mentally challenged. And so the case went to court and some NGOs were fighting for the rights of this child. But in the court it was said that the child could not recognize the attacker because the child is mentally challenged. Also in 2008, one Mariam Stafford was attacked by a neighbor for eight years. This neighbor originated from Burundi.
Mariam recognized the neighbor because the previous day he went there and spoke with her for hours and also asked her whether she will be there the next morning. And Mariam said that she will be there so it means that he confirmed that she will be sleeping in that house. At night he came and attacked. He with other four people came and attacked. Now Mariam recognized him first because he is the neighbor for eight years, but secondly because of the clothes that he wore and thirdly because of the voice.
Now, Judith said that some lawyers helped this person who could recognize the voices of the attackers. In Mariam’s case, it was thrown out of court because Mariam has albinism and has low vision. And so it was concluded that a person with low vision cannot see at night. But at the same time, the voice was not allowed to be evidence because they said anybody can act as an attacker or another person using the voice and so the voice cannot be submitted in the court of law.
So those are some of the challenges that persons with disabilities are facing in Tanzania.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much.
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: And also Sub-Saharan Africa.
MODERATOR: Yes. Thank you very much, Ms. Ntetema. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, violence against persons with disabilities.
For our first question —
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen if you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Human rights violations are occurring around the world against many groups and individuals. Why is this particular issue of violence against people with disabilities of interest to the U.S. State Department or to you, personally, Special Advisor Heumann?
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Because I think violence against people in general, but today discussing violence against disabled individuals is used in the case of disabled people, people are victimized because they’re considered to be weak and, as Ms. Ntetema was explaining, also in some cases because of local traditions and customs about how raping an individual as an example might improve someone’s health.
But overall, I think the Department is interested in this issue because we’re interested in the broader issue of violence against disabled — I’m sorry, against women and girls and we’ve successfully, as I was mentioning earlier, been able to work within the State Department to allow people to understand a couple of points. One, you have individuals with disabilities like myself and people Ms. Ntetema was explaining. But then girls and women who experience violence also frequently acquire disabilities.
They acquire a disability, a psychosocial disability — I remember a case in Ethiopia a number of years ago where a former husband threw lye in the face of a flight attendant and how she became blind as a result of that. And it’s the dehumanization of disabled individuals, believing that we are not equivalent, that we are not equal, that we are not able to speak out. So I think one of the positive things going on around this is how disabled people’s organizations around the world and disabled women have really begun to become more empowered and to speak out against such violence.
When you think about the fact that individuals who experience violence are frequently experiencing that violence at the hand of a neighbor, a family member, someone close to that individual, you realize how people are so vulnerable. The ability to speak out and to basically demand equality, access to appropriate healthcare, the inclusion of disabled girls and women in broader discussions on the issue of violence; those are all reasons why the Department is very interested in continuing to advance this agenda and to be more inclusive on issues around violence.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much. Our next question goes to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: The line is open, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Escanda, I am VOA reporter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My question is the international community doesn’t often express concerns about disability rights the way it does about other human right issues. The U.S. State Department issues, for example, a human rights report every year. Why are these rights frequently overlooked by the international community? Thank you very much.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Vicky do you want to start that and then I’ll join?
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: I think because persons with disabilities have been marginalized for many, many years and now we’re seeing that there are efforts to include everyone and to leave no one behind. But once you’re marginalized, you don’t have a voice so it depends on people like you, the media, to voice the voice of the voiceless. And when these are out then it is possible for United Nations now to take action and also to report about the atrocities that are committed against persons with disabilities.
So when the United Nations — you see, the United Nations is a body and it needs information from people on the ground. So when the people on the ground are quiet, how do you think that this information will reach the UN for them to make any resolutions? We started in 2009 — I’m talking about Under the Same Sun and with the media, we started to raise these issues using the media. And you can see, I said to you that I started working at the BBC, Bureau Chief in Tanzania when I realized that witch doctors, are people fueling the killings of persons with albinism.
Now, when we raise that issue, the EU took it up. The EU Union, the assembly, it took it up in September 2008. But in 2009 we didn’t keep quiet. We went to the UN and presented the case. Because the government in Tanzania was quiet and so we had to get to find a voice and Under the Same Sun became that voice for persons with albinism.
We went there in 2009 to the UN, 2010 the U.S. Assembly of the Congress took it up and passed a resolution to protect persons with albinism in East Africa, including Burundi and Tanzania, and condemned the killings and wanted the government to take action.
In 2011, it was the Canadian House of Commons that did the same thing that the Congress in the U.S. did. And it was in 2012 when we went back to the UN and we said we really wanted the UN to take this up because quite a lot of people are being murdered for no reason at all, just because people believe in witchcraft. And the UN took it up in 2013 and from that time to 2015, we had about five resolutions condemning the attacks and also giving instructions to member states to take action.
One of these was the International Albinism Awareness Day. Before 2013, there was no such thing. Albinism was not in the agenda. And also in 2015, we had the first ever UN independent expert on the enjoyment of the rights of persons with albinism, who has albinism herself. So you can see if we, the people on the ground are quiet, how can the UN take it over? So I challenge you, the media, to take it up, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, to take it up and raise these issues so that the international community can now do something, can help, if governments in those areas do not do anything.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: And if I could please continue on that, in fact, in addition to what Ms. Ntetema was saying, there now with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the committee itself has been raising issues around disabled women, including the issue of violence. And we’re seeing more and more studies which are coming forward, which are showing not only that the rates of violence against disabled individuals are substantially higher than non-disabled individuals. So for example, the European Union, in a study that they did, felt that it was four times more likely for a disabled individual to experience sexual violence than for their peers without disabilities.
In 2004, OXFAM funded a survey of women with disabilities in a community in India and found that virtually all of the participants had been beaten at home. And furthermore, that 25 percent of women with intellectual disabilities in the study, had been raped and six percent of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilized. We’ve seen an increasing role that disabled women are playing themselves, which I think is very, very important. But ultimately I think when looking at the issue of disability, I get back to a point that both of us have been making.
Disabled people have been invisible in communities for far too long. The failure for people to be able to attend school, be able to get jobs, to be able to become breadwinners and more importantly where the community around disabled individuals does not see that person as a person. So I’d like actually to ask Vicky if she could give a couple of quick examples of some positive activities that are happening in a number of African countries to address the issue of violence, specifically she’s talking right now in the area of albinism, but I want to say that the resolutions or the activities that are going on have a much broader impact than just on individuals who have albinism. It is using a particular group of individuals who have disabilities to be able to raise a much bigger problem.
And as governments and local communities decide to take appropriate action, some changes are beginning to occur. Vicky?
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: Yes, Judith. Indeed. In Tanzania for example, the new government that just started — not new anymore — started last year in December, appointed a person with a disability to the post of deputy minister. And that, we are seeing now visibility. And this deputy minister has albinism but he is charged with all issues regarding persons with disabilities. The first thing he did was to gather associations and organizations that work with people with disabilities in order to see what are the challenges and a way forward. What are the solutions. And he now is working on that document that was collected or compiled by all these organizations of people with disabilities.
We see also in the new government in Tanzania there are some principle secretaries who have disabilities. Some of them are lawyers and they are visually challenged, but there you are. They are now more visible. And people would say oh, so I can take my child to school instead of hiding — my child with disability to school because one day can become someone in the community who would be respected and maybe even lead the government.
We see in Malawi where now we have quite a lot of atrocities against persons with albinism that are being reported. A group of students in the fourth year in Malawi University came together and thought well we don’t have enough laws which can now deter all these people who are killing persons with disabilities, with albinism. And so they came with another new law and also penal code.
So right now if you use derogatory name to a person with albinism, just be prepared for a five-year jail sentence. And if you are caught with the bones that belong to a person with albinism or belonged to any human being for that matter, you’re looking at not less than 21 years of jail sentence. So we see all these people, for example in Kenya, we have a member of parliament, Isaac Mwaura, who has albinism. And people are looking at all these role models and they inspire persons with disabilities that no matter what happens, they need to go to school. They need to work hard and fight for their rights in order to reach those goals.
And so we think that with these role models there will be a lull in atrocities against people with disabilities.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I would like to ask Special Advisor Heumann, Africa is a large continent with many countries and governments that possess varying levels of institutional effectiveness. Is there a single act that you feel could be a first step that all governments could take to begin to both address and reduce instances of violence against the disabled?
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Thank you. I believe it’s very important that governments speak out against violence in general and when they’re speaking out against violence, to ensure that they’re including disabled individuals in those commentaries.
I think as Vicky was explaining in cases like Tanzania and Kenya and Malawi, where disabled people are being put in positions of responsibility, where government is proactively working to reach out to the disability community to identify what the major barriers are and most importantly, not just listening to what the barriers are but to be proactive in developing solutions; that’s very important.
Some of the systemic problems in Africa are the same as in countries around the world. And that is that governments frequently are not responsibly ensuring implementation of laws or policies that may be on the books. So I think that’s another issue which is very important, that governments do due diligence and enforce laws. Most of the countries in Africa have now ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which now obligates those governments to ensure that they implement the requirements which address in many, many issues, violence, education, healthcare, transportation being just some of those issues.
At the end of the day, it is important that governments and religious community and civil society in general — it’s not just government at all — include disabled individuals. Learn to recognize that the differences that we have can contribute to stronger communities. Recognize that disability is caused by so many things; particularly in some countries in Africa, post-conflict countries and conflict countries, the numbers of people who are acquiring disabilities can be quite significant, again leaving these populations vulnerable.
Trafficking is another issue that is also very critical; not only to prevent and end trafficking, but to look at the primarily women who are being trafficked, basically most of whom acquire disabilities; mental health and possibly other disabilities.
So I would say it needs to be a collective responsibility of government, the religious community, the disability community, civil society overall, employers; it needs to be community responsibility that says we believe that all people in our community should be treated equally and in the discussion we’re having today, that violence against anyone, including violence against women and girls with disabilities is unacceptable.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from a journalist at the listening party in Addis Ababa. Operator, could you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Leul Worku from Ethiopian Herald newspaper. My question is that, the first one, is a common concern, is the problem for people with disability. I am seeing this from what I experience everyday here in Addis Ababa. For example there are [unclear] in light rail transport . These are not, despite the fact that there are posts with chairs that are located for disabled ones, it is a problem to use them properly. This is one problem. The other one is social networks, this technologies are meant really in the third country and what I mean is that in the third world country, these technologies are effectively produced to serve the non-disabled members of the society. It is still a challenge for disabled ones. I suppose I’m not also free from these challenges.
Here I want to add one thing; how long this disability issue should be a one-week agenda. How long? This is my question. It is some civil societies that are benefiting from this movement. I have a chance to attend different workshops. The disabled ones didn’t properly benefit this chance. So how long, this is my question. Thank you very much.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: I’m sorry, could you just repeat the end of the question? How long —
QUESTION: How long, one week agenda? The issue of disability is a one-week agenda.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Ah.
QUESTION: This after one week, it will be forgot. How long? this is it.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Thank you very much. I’ll go, then Vicky, you jump in. I think you’re completely correct. The issue of ending discrimination against disabled individuals grant ensuring that disabled people have — I mean we have human rights, but we are able to exercise our human rights, it has to be something which is 360 days a year. It has to be something that the communities that I was mentioning earlier see as an integrated part of their agenda.
A day or a week or a month, marginalizes the problem. So you’re correct on that. And I think ultimately the changes that are going on in the area of disability like in other areas, will not occur overnight. Ethiopia I think is a very interesting example of a disability community that has become more engaged and more sophisticated. Unfortunately, I think some of the actions of the Ethiopian government are restricting the ability not just of disabled people’s organizations, but others to freely express what their concerns are.
And I think that we need a healthy and vibrant civil society in all countries around the world to be able to help ensure that we are able to advocate for change. I think advocacy is something which is critical and healthy and that is one way that I believe we ensure that we don’t have a day or a week or a month on issues like ending discrimination, but we as a community take responsibility for it all year-round. Vicky?
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: Yes, I think all the governments and also civil societies should work together as Judith pointed out with religious leaders and in Africa, with the traditional leaders also in order to solve this problem, in order to find a solution. The most important thing is education. To educate the public about disabilities, that persons with disabilities are human beings, first and foremost. Just because they’ve got challenges, various challenges, it doesn’t mean that they’re less human.
And so once we change the mindset of Africans, in my case, here in Africa, we will now then start looking at positive and affirmative actions that are taken in order to promote the rights of persons with albinism. If people do not understand what disability is then we have a problem there. So educating the public about disabilities and also we need to — the government to come up together with the civil society to come up with national policies and programs and legislation that promote the full and equal participation of people with disabilities.
No one should be left behind. We have to include everybody. In Tanzania, there is a saying which goes that every person is a potential person with disability. We have quite a lot of people, young people for example who are riding motorcycles. These young ones, they ride — some of them are very rough and end up in accidents; quite a lot of them have now either one limb or they have lost both limbs. Some of them have become visually challenged.
But in the past they were just people who did not have any disability. So if we’re looking at this disability issue as “it’s not my thing, it is only those people who get disability, that family, that clan”; in Africa, the way people believe, then we have a problem there. So it is the work of not only the government but also the civil society. The media have to take it up and they shouldn’t be looking for negative news only, for example. A person with a disability has stolen from a supermarket. Now it becomes news. But when this person with disability was facing education challenges, no one reported about it.
And so we just go for all those sexy, sexy news but we don’t dig deeper in order to find out what are the causes and what are the solutions. What are the challenges, what can be done. So we really need also to promote self-presentation of people with disability, in public decision-making. For example in Kenya, as I pointed out, we have Mwaura who is a member of parliament. In Tanzania we have Deputy Minister Dr. Abdallah Possi. In Namibia, we have Rusa who is one of the state attorneys in the media.
So we need to promote people. Well, we’re not forgetting Judith here. She has disabilities but we look at her position. So when we make people with disabilities visible and positively visible then we will be talking about disability, what disability? Challenges that are affecting people with disability, what are those? Because we will have solved those long time ago. So yes, it’s not a week long, it’s not a month long, it’s throughout our lives as long as we are on this earth.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Ms. Ntetema gave an example of the witch doctors and I would like both Special Advisor Heumann’s opinion and yours on how great of role do cultural norms or beliefs both in Africa and around the world, play in the misperceptions surrounding the disabled and can these effectively be changed to protect the vulnerable without threatening the culture itself?
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: Thank you, Tiffany. In the first place, I will say that all these problems we are facing is because the African community gets advice from the witch doctors. They value witch doctors. Witch doctors make frightened people. Quite a lot of people in society are afraid of witch doctors, so whatever the witch doctor will say, will go.
I think if there was a policeman and also witch doctor threatening a member of the public, they would go with the witch doctor saying that “oh, I don’t want this witch doctor to bewitch you.” So these are people who determine what are the cultural norms and what are the traditions and what are the beliefs about persons with disabilities.
Since time in memorial, these advisors — these witch doctors have been advisors of rulers. They’d advise the rulers that in your community you have a person with a disability, kill them. Kill them at birth so there was a conspiracy between the side of the child and the traditional midwife to kill this baby before the baby gets to the society, gets out there to the society. And the mother is not even supposed to mourn.
This has been done for years and so when the missionaries came, in my case, they asked — the people asked about these persons with albinism. Who are these? Because the missionaries were Caucasians by nature. And so people were confused. We used to kill persons with albinism at birth but now here they are, they’re grown up. So that is when the notion that persons with albinism are ghosts came from, because if they killed the baby at birth and now they see a grown-up missionary coming to Africa, then it must be a ghost.
But also they were saying that the witch doctors would tell the fathers of the children that your wife was promiscuous or you have been cursed by God. And so the traditions and the culture of Africa, it plays a vital role in all these atrocities against persons with disabilities. There is no tradition that tells a person you have to kill, but witch doctors have got that powerful voice saying that in order for you to succeed, kill so-and-so and use a particular body part for this and that. So what we are supposed to do is to work with these traditional rulers who — these are chiefs and the kings of the African continent who always consult witch doctors when they have a problem.
In the years that came, the missionaries told the society that you know persons with albinism are people who are created by God in His own image, just like any other person. And so, stop killing them. They stopped killing them. So witch doctors thought, well, we are fools now. People are not going to believe us. So they went and whispered to the rulers that you know when you die you really don’t die, you just abdicate and you leave the throne to your heir. So what you need is that when you go in rest, you need people who will now work with you or serve you as servants in your life away from this earth.
And so the persons with albinism and other people with disabilities were buried alive with the chiefs in order to continue and work for the chiefs, and that is where the notion now came that people with albinism do not die, they disappear. And so the years went and now we have this new market, free market economy and everyone wants to become rich today. They still went to the witch doctors, not only that, the politicians now also wanted to win elections because now we have multi-partisan [a multi-party system].
And so they went to the witch doctors and asked the witch doctors for advice and the witch doctors said ah, you know, you need to kill persons with albinism and their body parts now can be used in the charm in order for you to win elections. In order for your business to boom. And so this is, you know, you see the witch doctors are central in the so-called traditions and cultures. But cultures that are harmful, just like female genital mutilations, have to end. We have to fight against those cultures so we need to educate the public. We need to educate even these witch doctors and traditional healers and also there is no fine line between the traditional healer and the witch doctor, that persons with disabilities are human beings and there is no part in their bodies that can make someone successful.
And then we have to get champions. We have to get these witch doctors, traditional rulers who are champions, who are saying positive things about people with disabilities. Once we do that, we reverse the whole thing and the community will start again believing witch doctors who are saying, you know, people are wrong, we were wrong. You will not succeed by using body parts of a person with disabilities. With this now, we will win this war.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have another question that needs to be our last question from Addis Ababa. Operator, could you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: The line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I would like from general to specific. Doctor, you did last year, we were together. On my way I would like to say it’s nice to see you again on the same issue. We discussed a lot on this issue, issue of people with disabilities. And have you seen any improvement comparing to that of last year? Concerning the issue of disability, it is not one country’s issue. It is international, in fact. Although it differs from country to country, there is a problem in every aspect. The main problem is there is no coverage of laws. Or in fact, we say that, there’s 17 sustainable development goals should be achieved, but is there anybody that follows up this activity in different countries? Because the problem is, there are no rules and regulations that protect people with disabilities.
Concerning these people, you know, it depends upon the humanity of individuals, if the individual is human, he can employ or he can support the people with disabilities, but concerning the rules and regulations, we see leniency, a great leniency. For in fact, in Ethiopia we can say a lot. If it is possible, that is what we see, if it is possible, you can do things for people with disabilities.
In the case of media, I would like to say something about — okay, I would like to say something about media. I am the (unclear) from Afro FM, 105.3 and (unclear) from national program on national radio.
And concerning media also, we don’t have any support in line with this media. Even concerning this one, American Embassy here in Addis Ababa can do a lot, but we see nothing concerning this point. Therefore, is there anybody that can follow up these activities? In fact, the rules should be set, okay, a rule should be set and the concerned bodies should follow up the activities, how far they have taken place. Thank you.
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Thank you very much. So as this discussion today is focusing on journalists, I think the point that Vicky was making a few minutes ago is very important. The issue of disability needs to be an issue that the media takes as a part of its responsibility, not just when someone may commit a crime and they happen to have a disability.
But to be able to look at whatever the major issues are that they’re addressing and look at how it’s impacting individuals who have disabilities. In the case of the issue of women and girls with disabilities and violence, this is an issue that journalists cover, some cover in general for non-disabled girls and women and are looking at the problem and how it is being addressed within their community or not being addressed.
This is something that I think is really important to be looking at how this is impacting disabled individuals, possibly doing stories of activists in communities who are from the disability community, to follow them, to learn more about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, to meet people who have disabilities who have been affected by violence, to learn about when appropriate actions are taken against perpetrators, to follow some of these stories over a longer period of time.
But it’s important, as I said earlier, we must have a robust civil society that can continue to push these issues forward. That can continue in the area of disability not only having strong disability rights organizations, but being able to work with vibrant organizations that are not disability-focused but are focused on other issues. So I hope that one of the outcomes for today’s discussion is that some of the people on the call will in fact take up the charge that Vicky and I are encouraging, which is to look at how the media has been covering the issue of violence against women and girls with disabilities, looking at what more they can be doing through radio, TV, social media, print media; in order to address these issues more effectively.
Saturday is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This is a day which is celebrated around the world and is a great opportunity potentially to be able to get a story out on the call that we’ve just had, highlighting some of the major issues and looking at what needs to be happening over the course of the next year.
I think as I did mention, the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, I think someone just recently mentioned the sustainable development goals, which address all people and reduction of poverty, improved education, healthcare, violence, disabled people are a part of that. That’s another area that if it’s effectively implemented, would allow us to be looking at issues around violence against disabled girls and women in collection of data.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes our call, at least our question and answer portion. Special Advisor Heumann, Ms. Ntetema, do either of you have any final words?
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Do you want to go first?
MS. VICKY NTETEMA: Yes. I will go first. Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity. What I want to say is that it’s a call to the media people. They can start an organization that promotes the rights of persons with albinism. Research, have all your data, compile all these atrocities and work with civil societies and governments in order to find solutions and let’s see how it goes. Because we do that with HIV and AIDS, we do that with malaria, with Tuberculosis, but I haven’t seen that with persons with disabilities. It is time now to do that in order for us to have more journalists in Africa and maybe if we can have an organization that deals with such issues across the board, whether it is the politics, the economy, whether it is social issues and health issues and education. Just things that address persons with disabilities so that we can have a way forward after. People with disabilities have faced challenges for so many years and have been marginalized for so many years and some of the stigma and discrimination lead to fatalities.
It has to end now and we have to become the voice of persons with disabilities all over the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Special Advisor Heumann?
SPECIAL ADVISOR HEUMANN: Yes, so I’d like to thank everyone who participated in this call today. And just to say from my perspective, this is an opportunity to expose some journalists to an issue that you may have some knowledge about or not. And hopefully we were able to present you with sufficient information, plus that which will be posted that you can look at to be able to help you delve more deeply into this discussion and I look forward to learning about some of the future reporting that is coming up from the journalists who are participating.
And I’d like to thank Tiffany and everybody who was involved in setting this up.
MODERATOR: You’re welcome. And I want to thank everyone who participated. Judith Heumann, the U.S. Special Advisor for International Disability Rights and Vicky Alice Ntetema, journalist and 2016 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award.
Thank you for joining us and thanks to all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about the call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at [email protected] Thank you.
Distributed by APO on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.