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International Religious Freedom Report on Cameroon - 2003

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were a few exceptions.

There was a slight improvement in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. In the past, religious sites and personnel were subjected to abuses by government security forces; however, there were no such reports during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, some religious groups face societal pressure and discrimination within their regions, although this may reflect ethnic more than 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. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 183,568 square miles, and its population is approximately 15,422,000. Muslim centers and Christian churches of various denominations operate freely throughout the country. Approximately 40 percent of the population is at least nominally Christian, approximately 20 percent is at least nominally Muslim, and approximately 40 percent practices traditional indigenous religions or no religion. The Christian population is divided approximately equally between Catholic and Protestant denominations.

Christians are concentrated chiefly in the southern and western provinces. The two Anglophone provinces of the western region largely are Protestant; the Francophone provinces of the southern and western regions largely are Catholic. In the northern provinces, the locally dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group overwhelmingly is Muslim. Other ethnic groups, known collectively as the Kirdi, generally practice some form of Islam. The Bamoun ethnic group of the western province also largely is 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.

Missionaries are present throughout the country, including Catholic, Muslim, the Baha'i Faith, Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelic, and the New Church of God.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were a few exceptions. There is no official state religion.

The Law on Religious Congregations governs relations between the State and religious groups. Religious groups must be approved by and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT) 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. Although official recognition confers no general tax benefits, it does allow religious groups to receive real estate as tax-free 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 MINAT. The file must include a request for authorization, a copy of the groupís charter describing planned activities, and the names and respective functions of the groupís officials. The Minister reviews 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 may take up to 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. According to MINAT statistics released in April 2002, there are 38 officially registered denominations, most of which are Christian. There also are numerous unregistered small religious groups that operate illegally but freely. The Government does not register traditional religious groups on the grounds that the practice of traditional religions is not a public but rather a private affiliation for members of a particular ethnic or kinship group, or for the residents of a particular locality.

Disputes within registered religious groups about control of places of worship, schools, real estate, or financial assets are resolved primarily by the MINAT rather than by the judiciary.

Missionary groups are present in the country and operate without impediment. The licensing requirements for foreign groups are the same as those for domestic religious denominations.

Several religious denominations operate primary and secondary schools. Although post-secondary education continues to be dominated by state institutions, private schools affiliated with religious denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Koranic schools, have been among the country's best schools at the primary and secondary levels for many years. 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.

School attendance--public, private, or parochial--is mandatory through junior high school.

The Catholic Church operates two of the country's few modern private printing presses (one in Yaounde and one in Douala), and a weekly newspaper, L'Effort Camerounais. A 2000 government decree requires potential commercial radio broadcasters to submit a licensing application, pay a fee when the application is approved, and pay an annual licensing fee of $15,600 (10 million CFA francs). Two private religious radio stations that had been broadcasting illegally, the Pentecostal Radio Bonne Nouvelle and Radio Reine, which is managed by a Catholic priest although not officially sponsored by the Catholic Church, continued to broadcast while awaiting official authorization. A new private Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas, submitted its application to broadcast in January 2001, and is currently awaiting official licensing before broadcasting.

Religious holidays of both the Christian and Muslim faiths are considered national holidays. These include: the Feast of the Lamb (Muslim), Good Friday (Christian), Ascension Day (Christian), Assumption Day (Christian), End of Ramadan (Muslim) and Christmas Day (Christian). None negatively impacts those religious groups not celebrating the holiday.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In the past, government officials have disapproved of and questioned criticism of the Government by religious institutions and leaders; however, there were no reports that government officials used force to suppress such criticism.

The practice of witchcraft is a criminal offense under the national penal code; however, persons generally are prosecuted for this offense only in conjunction with some other offense, such as murder. Witchcraft traditionally has been a common explanation for diseases of unknown origin.

In April 2002, the Government banned the Maíalah, a nontraditional religious body, following the March 2002 death of a 6-year old girl whose mother and other members of the religious group had tortured her to death. The group believed that severe beating could extract the devil from a possessed body. Both the Government and the girlís father have since sued the mother and her accomplices. At the end of the period covered by this report, court action was still pending.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In the past, the sites and personnel of religious institutions were not exempt from the widespread human rights abuses committed by government security forces; however, there were no reports of such abuses during the period covered by this report.

On July 26, 2002, the GSO, a special Yaounde police unit, arrested 21-year-old Robert Ndoumbe Elimbi for the April 2001 murder of Appolinaire Ndi, a parish priest in the Yaounde diocese. Elimbi remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report.

There were no developments in the May 2001 case of the shooting death of Father Henri Djeneka.

According to press reports, in April 2002, the Muslim authorities of Bui Division in the North West province tortured six members of the Dariga Tijaniya, a schismatic Islamic group. According to the Bui authorities, during certain worship rituals, male members of the religious group were having sex with female members in mosques, where sexual activity is unlawful. The Bui authorities further alleged that the six members had killed several persons in Nigeria and continued to cause serious turmoil in Foumban, a Muslim chiefdom in the West province. The six members, who were released, denied all charges and stated that the Bui Muslim authorities had fined them 24 cows. The Bui authorities denied the fine allegation. Central government authorities did not involve themselves in the case.

In December 2001, Njoya Abdellaziz, Youonyon Idriss, Ngoussou Inoussa, and Moussa Kalamop, imams of the Muslim Chiefdom of Foumban, were arrested on charges of disturbance of public order and subsequently jailed at the Foumban prison in the West province. According to a member of the royal Foumban family who was interviewed by the press, local Muslim authorities accused the four imams of creating disorder and sabotaging the December 2001 Ramadan ceremonies when a malfunctioned microphone rendered the officiating imamís sermon inaudible. The local Administrative and religious authorities peacefully settled the case in November 2002 and released the four imams. There were no reports of reprisal within the Muslim Foumban community. This case arose from the sectarian-Muslim confrontation that beset the Foumban Sultanate from 2000 through 2001. During the period covered by this report, no inter-Muslim conflicts in Foumban were reported.

In July 2001, police arrested and detained overnight approximately 60 persons who were leaving the Douala Cathedral after the evening Mass. The Police Commissioner claimed that the sweep was undertaken to deter bandits from operating in the area.

There were no reports of the Government approving religious licenses or registration in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, some religious groups faced 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 complained of discrimination by Muslims. However, no specific incidents or violence stemming from religious discrimination was reported during the period covered by this report, and historical 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. The Fulani conquered or displaced many Kirdi based on religious grounds. Although some Kirdi subsequently have adopted Islam, the Kirdi remain socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged relative to the Fulani. The slavery still practiced in parts of the north is reported to be largely enslavement of Kirdi by Fulani.

The multiplication of new unaffiliated religious groups, most of which are Protestant, has led established churches to vigorously denounce what they label "sects" or "cults." Leaders of established religious organizations characterize and denounce these "sects" as detrimental to societal peace and harmony. The Archbishop of Yaounde warns his congregations during major celebrations like Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost to beware of such groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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

Embassy officials met on several occasions with Douala Archbishop Cardinal Christian Tumi to discuss various issues including religious freedom, human rights, freedom of the press, and the democratization process in Cameroon. In addition, during their frequent trips within Cameroonís 10 provinces, Embassy officials frequently meet local religious officials to discuss their work and any problems they may be experiencing at the hands of government officials and individuals belonging to other faiths and denominations.

Released on December 18, 2003



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved