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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Relations among different religious groups are generally amicable; however, some religious groups face societal pressure and discrimination within their regions, although this may reflect ethnic as much as religious differences.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. In general, the Law on Religious Congregations governs relations between the State and religious groups. Religious groups must be approved and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration in order to function legally; there were no reports that the Government refused to register any group. It is illegal for a religious group to operate without official recognition, but the law prescribes no specific penalties for doing so. Although official recognition confers no general tax benefits, it does allow religious groups to receive real estate as gifts and legacies for the conduct of their activities. In order to register, a religious denomination must fulfill the legal requirement to qualify as a religious congregation. This definition includes "any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship" or "any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine." The denomination then submits a file to the Minister of Territorial Administration. The file must include a request for authorization, a copy of the charter of the group which describes planned activities, and the names and respective functions of the officials of the group. The Minister studies the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation for a positive or negative decision. The President generally follows the recommendation of the Minister, and authorization is granted by a presidential decree. The approval process usually takes several years, due primarily to administrative delays. The only religious groups known to be registered are Christian and Muslim groups and the Baha'i Faith, but other groups may be registered. The Ministry has not disclosed the number of registered denominations, but the number of registered religious groups is estimated to be in the dozens. The Government does not register traditional religious groups on the grounds that the practice of traditional religions is not public but rather private to members of a particular ethnic or kinship group, or to the residents of a particular locality.

Religious Demography

Muslim centers and Christian churches of various denominations operate freely throughout the country. Approximately 40 percent of the population are at least nominally Christian, about 20 percent are at least nominally Islamic, and about 40 percent practice traditional indigenous religions or no religion. Of the Christians, approximately half are Catholics and about half are affiliated with Protestant denominations. Christians are concentrated mainly in the southern and western provinces. The two Anglophone provinces of the western region are largely Protestant; the Francophone provinces of the southern and western regions are largely Catholic. Muslims are concentrated mainly in the northern provinces, where the locally dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group is overwhelmingly Muslim, and other ethnic groups, known collectively as the Kirdi, are generally partly Islamicized. The Bamoun ethnic group of the western provinces is also largely Muslim. Traditional indigenous religions are practiced in rural areas throughout the country but rarely are practiced publicly in cities, in part because many such religions are intrinsically local in character.

Religious missionaries are present throughout the country and operate without impediment, including 100 American missionaries and their dependents. Several religious denominations also operate diverse private schools. A Catholic-affiliated private radio station also continues to broadcast in Yaounde while its official authorization remains pending. The Catholic Church, the largest religious denomination in the country, also operates a private institution of general postsecondary education, one of the country's very few modern private printing presses, and a weekly newspaper, which until the 1990's was one of the only private newspapers in the country.

The Government does not have a program to promote interfaith understanding.

Although post-secondary education continues to be dominated by state institutions, private schools affiliated with religious denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Koranic schools, long have been among the country's best schools at the primary and secondary levels. The Ministry of Education is charged by law with ensuring that private schools run by religious groups meet the same standards as state-operated schools in terms of curriculum, building quality, and teacher training. For schools affiliated with religious groups, this oversight function is performed by the Sub-Department of Confessional Education of the Ministry's Department of Private Education.

Disputes within registered religious groups about control of places of worship, schools, real estate, or financial assets are resolved in the first instance by the executive branch rather than by the judiciary.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

On April 24, the Ministry of National Education announced the suspension of two teachers of the Bertoua technical high school. The two teachers were accused of having "enticed" some of their students into their religious group. On April 20, 2000, government security forces reportedly stormed Notre Dame de Sept Douleurs parish in Douala during the ceremony of Mass. Security forces reportedly arrested some parishioners and beat others.

The sites and personnel of religious institutions were not exempt from the widespread human rights abuses committed by government security forces. In January 1998, an undisclosed number of personnel of the 21st Navy Battalion, allegedly broke into a church in Douala, beat and stabbed the priest and several youths, raped young women, and stole funds. On February 22, 2000, the Douala Military Tribunal convicted the personnel of breach of orders causing bodily harm and destruction. The tribunal sentenced them to 1-year imprisonment with no possibility of remission.

In the past, government officials have criticized and questioned any criticisms of the Government by religious institutions and leaders; however, there were no reports that government officials during the period covered by this report used force or other means to suppress such criticism.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations among different religious groups are generally amicable; however, some religious groups face societal pressures within their regions. In the northern provinces, especially in rural areas, societal discrimination by Muslims against persons who practice traditional indigenous religions is strong and widespread, and some Christians in rural areas of the north complain of discrimination by Muslims. However, no specific incidents or violence stemming from religious discrimination were reported, and the reported discrimination may reflect ethnic as much as religious differences. The northern region suffers from ethnic tensions between the Fulani, a Muslim group that conquered most of the region 200 years ago, and the Kirdi, the descendents of groups that practiced traditional indigenous religions and whom the Fulani conquered or displaced, justifying their conquest on religious grounds. Although some Kirdi subsequently have adopted Islam, the Kirdi remain socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged relative to the Fulani in the three northern provinces. (The slavery still practiced in parts of the north is reported to be largely enslavement of Kirdi by Fulani.)

There were no reports of religiously motivated violence by practitioners of a traditional indigenous religion against persons who did not practice that religion.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. The Embassy maintained regular contact with religious groups in the country and monitored religious freedom.

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