The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Religious sites and personnel, at times, were subjected to abuses by government security forces.
Relations among different religious groups generally are 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. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of 183,568 square miles and its population is 15,421,937. Muslim centers and Christian churches of various denominations operate freely throughout the country. Approximately 40 percent of the population at least nominally are Christian, about 20 percent at least nominally are Muslim, and about 40 percent practice traditional indigenous religions or no religion. Approximately half of Christians are Catholics and approximately half are affiliated with Protestant denominations. Christians are concentrated chiefly in the southern and western provinces. The two Anglophone provinces of the western region largely are Protestant; and the Francophone provinces of the southern and western regions largely are Catholic. Muslims are concentrated mainly in the northern provinces, where the locally dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group overwhelmingly is Muslim, and other ethnic groups, known collectively as the Kirdi, generally are partly Islamicized. The Bamoun ethnic group of the western provinces 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.
Religious missionaries are present throughout the country, including Catholic, Muslim, Baha'i, Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelic, and the New Church of God.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions. There is no state religion.
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 that 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.
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.
Religious missionary groups are present in the country and operate without impediment.
Several religious denominations operate diverse private 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.
A private radio station, founded by a Catholic priest but not affiliated with the Catholic Church, continues to broadcast in Yaounde while its official authorization remains pending. The Catholic Church also operates one of the country's few modern private printing presses, and a weekly newspaper, "L'Effort Camerounais", which until the 1990's was one of the only private newspapers in the country.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
In the past, government officials criticized and questioned any criticisms of the Government by religious institutions and leaders (see Section III); however, there were no such reports during the period covered by this report.
On April 24, 2000, 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.
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 which the causes were unknown.
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. 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. There have been no reports of government action taken in response to this incident, and there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among different religious groups generally are 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.
On June 16, 2001, Cardinal Tumi, The Catholic Archbishop of Douala, sent a letter to the Government strongly criticizing summary executions, torture, and other human rights abuses by the Douala Operational Command. The Government did not respond, either publicly or privately, by the end of the period covered by this report (see Section II).
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy 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.