Over the past six years, more than 3,000 people were lynched in Tanzania by frightened neighbors who thought they were witches, according to a new report from the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).
Between 2005 and 2011, Tanzanians lynched an average of 500 people per year on suspicion of witchcraft, with most killings occurring in rural areas in the north of the country, according to the report obtained by Agence France-Presse.
"In Shinyanga province for example 242 people were killed because of local beliefs in witchcraft between January 2010 and January 2011 alone," the Legal and Human Rights Centre said in the report.
The LHRC explained that many victims were older women who had developed red eyes, which has long been considered a sign of witchcraft. Poor women in particular often develop red eyes as a result of burning cow dung for fuel as a substitute for firewood, researchers have found.
"Use of low quality biomass fuels like cow dung cause indoor pollution which is a hazard reflected in eyes turning red," gender consultant Rose Mgema told the InterPress Third World News Agency.
Ignas Mtana, a spokesman for police in northwest Tanzania, told IntrePress that women are often killed within a short period of time following the death of a relative. He said many families visit soothsayers to determine the cause of death and are often told that witchcraft is responsible.
Rural villagers driven by superstition have also murdered a great number of albinos in recent years due to a belief that making potions from their legs, hair, hands and blood can lead to great wealth, the BBC reported in a 2008 investigation.
Reuters reported last year that albino women are sometimes raped due a belief that intercourse with them will cure AIDs, one of many erroneous beliefs that have led to albino killings in recent years.
"(It is believed) a person with albinism is a curse. They are from the devil, they are not human, they do not die, they simply disappear," Peter Ash, founder and director of Under The Same Sun (UTSS), told Reuters at the time.
Emmanuel Uchawi, a member of a Tanzanian organization working to protect the rights of the elderly in local communities, told the BBC that he believes education and development is the key to preventing witchcraft-related murders.
"You cannot separate witchcraft beliefs from the issue of development. The more developed people are, the less they believe in such things," Uchawi said.