18 Dead In Malagasy Police Station Attack After Kidnap Of Child With Albinism

18 people were killed and 34 were injured after security forces opened fire on a group of over 500 people outside a police station in the southern Madagascan town of Ikongo. The mob was attempting to reach four men under arrest for the kidnapping of a child with albinism and the murder of the child’s mother. Because the mob was armed, the police officers claim they were forced to open fire when the mob refused to co-operate with law enforcement.

A similar incident occurred in the same town in 2017 when an angered mob made an attempt to accost a suspect in a police station. 120 prisoners broke free in the ensuing chaos.

The altercation was “a very sad event,” said national police chief Andry Rakotondrazaka, noting that there had been “provocations” and that officers “had no choice but to resort to self-defence.”

The police force in Madagascar, which comprises the National Police in urban areas and Gendarmerie Nationale outside urban centres, has been criticized in the past for its use of force and the impunity it grants to offending officers. There is no independent oversight body for law enforcement in Madagascar, though an ombudsman exists. The role of this ombudsman is chiefly to inform and observe citizens’ rights, and the office does not have the necessary jurisdiction to enact reforms.

Though there is an immediate need for a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation into the tragedy in Ikongo, it remains to be seen if this will in fact take place. There have been reports that the victims’ families have been awarded some degree of financial remuneration, but this does not negate the need for a conclusive examination of the events leading up to their deaths. All use of force by police must be accounted for, and if found to be in error, swift recompense should follow.

However, this tragedy extends to more than a question of overt police brutality. Attacks on people with albinism are prevalent all across the African continent, motivated in part by ritual beliefs that the body parts of people with albinism are inherently lucky and bring good fortune. According to data collected by the United Nations, over a dozen attacks, murders, and abductions of people with albinism have occurred in Madagascar in the last two years.

The U.N. has also expressed concern that the dismembered body parts are being trafficked as part of a wider international market, with Madagascar’s dire economic situation leaving people with albinism even more at risk than ever before. “We urgently call on the Government to strengthen their efforts to protect people with albinism, particularly women, children, and older people who have been victims of these atrocious crimes,” the bloc said. The U.N. has stated that it is currently in talks with the Malagasy authorities to find ways to prevent further attacks, in particular advocating for better education and awareness.

The events in Ikongo are nothing short of tragic, reflecting the deep-seated issues which plague Madagascar. It is the Malagasy government’s responsibility to guarantee the safety and security of all its citizens. To that end, these issues require immediate reform and improvement.