Watershed judgment on Mariam Stafford’s case has vital lessons

25Nov 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Watershed judgment on Mariam Stafford’s case has vital lessons

THE world has for decades witnessed demands for equal rights and crusades against the victimisation of people with disabilities, among them those with albinism. However, it is often those with power or influence who have carried the day, not the victims or downtrodden.

That is what appears to have happened in a case involving a young woman with albinism who went through the harrowing experience of losing her arms – brutally chopped off in 2011 by people hunting for albino body parts.

A key suspect was arrested and taken to court, which was commendable, but the victim lost the case – owing to her poor visibility. A case of double tragedy, one might suggest. The court ruled that, considering her poor eyesight, she could not have properly identified the person or people who attacked her.

Those campaigning for the rights of people living with albinism took exception to the ruling, vowing to fight on. They pursued the matter with the secretariat of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP), which adjudicated in via a tribunal or committee in September that the government should compensate the woman.

That earlier judgment must have sent a cold shiver down the spine of human rights defenders and numerous other people, seeing that the testimony of a person living with albinism is dismissed merely on account of that person’s poor eyesight.

It was a typical case of the proverbial situation of adding insult to injury, and now the international community wants to see this anomaly rectified.

In other words, it didn’t matter that the said attacker was known personally to the victim, as anyway she didn’t see him clearly enough for testimony to impress the court adequately – even if she was the victim!

Even for those who did not know of the case or had lost memory relating to it, news of the rare judgment will have come as huge relief in that it shows that it is still possible for some semblance of justice to be done – and be seen to be done – whatever the odds.

It is unclear if our Court of Appeal or the Registrar of the High Court will make use of this latter ruling to order a retrial, but without an option of losing the case and failing to ensure actual compensation.

But even without such a move, it should be hoped that this will go down the annals of the judiciary that evidence from victims of attacks shouldn’t be so cynically treated. It is just that.

This ruling by a UN panel ought to be credited to Under The Same Sun (UTSS), a charitable organisation concerned with justice and welfare for people with albinism. The reason for this is simple and clear: it is this agency that took the matter to international instances after our own courts had played their part.

Upon the delivery of this dignified verdict, UTSS has called on the government to compensate and provide medical care to the victim, who is still only 36 and needs to be assured of how to lead a life in dignity despite being armless. As Tanzania is a party to the relevant UN convention, and is therefore duty bound to respect human rights, it ought to pay attention.

UTSS director Berthasia Ladislaus says lawyers for UTSS and the victim – Mariam Stafford – successfully argued that the rejection of her case was in violation of a convention which Tanzania is a party. This should stand as some food for thought for our judiciary.

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