Having sent hundreds of soldiers and relief workers to provide humanitarian and medical aid to Nepal recently, Israel is extending its humanitarian efforts to other parts of the globe. Recently, Israel joined the UN effort to combat discrimination and persecution of the Albino population – people who lack pigmentation in their skin, hair and eyes – in Africa.
Albinos are thought of in many African cultures as being cursed or bad luck. There is even a belief that their limbs should be used in special rituals that will bring about wealth and prosperity. Another belief, especially rampant in Zimbabwe, is that having relations with an Albino woman can cure one of AIDS. In Tanzania, their body parts are highly prized for witchcraft.
The Albino population in Africa has been marginalized significantly over the past two decades. Yet despite the stigma surrounding Albinos in Africa, there are more Albinos found throughout the continent than anywhere else in the world.
“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,” he told Ynet.
In addition to Israel, who lobbied on behalf of the UN initiative, several other countries supported the decision to protect the Albinos, including Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Portugal. An additional 26 countries added their support after the UN Human Rights Council session.
In recent years, Israel has granted asylum to two African Albinos, one from the Ivory Coast and the other from Nigeria.
“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.”