Honorary degree for lawyer who fights for human rights of people with albinism

Ik with the VC
Ikponwosa Ero, known as IK, with the Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Schofield

A human rights lawyer and internationally acclaimed advocate for the rights of people with albinism, who has had a close association with Lancaster University, was awarded an honorary degree this week.

Ikponwosa Ero, known as IK, received a Doctor of Laws degree.

Growing up with albinism in Nigeria gave IK a passion for the fight for human rights of people with albinism.

She lived there until she was 15 years old and encountered barriers and widespread lack of understanding.

Albinism, a relatively rare, genetically inherited condition that affects people worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender, causes a reduction in the production of melanin and is characterised by the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes resulting in varying levels of visual impairment and the vulnerability of skin to sun damage.

People with albinism face a range of discrimination and barriers that restrict their participation in society on an equal basis with others every day, which may include bullying and stigmatisation, but also forms of violence.

At its most extreme, people with albinism have been attacked for their body parts, considered by some to bring wealth or success.

IK moved to Canada, where the difference in support was striking. She initially planned to become a Development Studies professor, but, while studying Political Science as an undergraduate, she fell in love with International Relations and went on to do a Masters in Political Science.

Realising that she had to make a choice whether to stay in academia or work in practice, IK decided that she was more inclined to advocacy, so became a ‘pracademic’ – bridging the academic sphere and the community.

She went to Law School and studied for a Law degree at the University of Calgary and worked at the International Criminal Court in the Hague and Canada's Department of Justice.

Through her training as a lawyer, IK has more than a decade of experience in the research, policy, and practice of international human rights. This passion has led her to work with and advise multiple organisations and governments around the world.

From 2015-2021, she served as the UN’s first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by people with albinism.

She has collaborated with partners across sectors, including Lancaster University, to highlight the often-unspoken issue of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks which disproportionately impacts people with albinism in parts of Africa, and has worked with the African Union Pan African Parliament to develop guidelines on the issue.

IK worked with a team, including Lancaster University academics, to stamp out the worldwide atrocities of witchcraft, including ritual killings, with the successful acceptance in 2021 of a United Nations Resolution, calling called for the elimination of these harmful practices.

Making the oration at the degree ceremony Charlotte Baker, a Professor of Critical Disability Studies at Lancaster University, who has worked closely with IK, said: “When you first meet IK, it doesn’t take long at all to understand what an incredibly dynamic person she is and her achievements are remarkable.”

Professor Baker added: “As a result of IK’s incredible work, the situation of people with albinism has been significantly mainstreamed in international human rights discourse. People with albinism and many of the organisations that represent them in many countries now have access to government support in ways that they never did before.”

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