May 30, 2012 Source : http://universaltolerance.org
DODOMA, TANZANIA — More than 640 people suspected of witchcraft were lynched in Tanzania last year, a leading local rights group said on Tuesday, expressing concern about the growing trend of killings. More than 3,000 people have been killed in similar incidents since 2005.
In its annual human rights report, the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) said police statistics in the African nation show that at least 642 people suspected of witchcraft were killed between January and November 2011, a significant increase from the at least 579 witchcraft-related deaths in 2010.
“Thousands of people lose their lives in Tanzania because they are suspected of engaging in witchcraft,” the center said in its report, adding that many killings occur in the northern regions of Mwanza and Shinyanga. “Between 2005 and 2011, about 3,000 people were lynched to death by fearful neighbors who believed them to be witches.”
This makes for an average of 500 witchcraft-related deaths in Tanzania each year, but the actual figure is likely higher because many incidents are not reported. Most of the victims are elderly women with red eyes. “The red eye is believed to be a mark of a witch and ignites many of these tragic neighborhood witch hunts,” the LHRC said in its report.
There is a widespread belief in Tanzania that witches can cause poverty, disease, accidents, business failures, famine, earthquakes, infertility and childbirth difficulties. “Therefore, the tendency of witch hunt in Tanzania is highly associated with the occurrence of such predicaments,” the rights group explained.
In addition to the killings, witch hunts also result in discrimination, torture and other forms of violence. In October 2010, a mob of angry men in the Geita Region of Tanzania set fire to the homes of eight families because they were suspected of practicing witchcraft. Because of the witchcraft beliefs, the families were held responsible by the community for misfortune and deaths in the area.
A similar incident was documented by LHRC in the Kigoma Region in May 2010 when a mob burnt more than fifteen houses. “The mob demolished houses, destroyed property and crops such as banana groves, burning of cattle and livestock at Kibwigwa village,” the human rights group said previously.