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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Sierra Leone


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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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, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to the free practice of religion.

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 land area of 27,653 square miles, and its population is approximately 4.5 million. Reliable data on the exact numbers of those who practice major religions are not available; however, most sources estimate that the population is 60 percent Muslim, 30 percent Christian, and 10 percent practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. There is no information concerning the number of atheists in the country.

Reportedly many syncretistic practices exist, with up to 20 percent of the population practicing a mixture of Islam and traditional indigenous religions or Christianity and traditional indigenous religions.

Historically most Muslims have been concentrated in the northern areas of the country, and Christians were located in the south; however, the ongoing civil war has resulted in movement by major segments of the population.

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. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion.

The Government has no requirements for recognizing, registering, or regulating religious groups.

The Government permits religious instruction in public schools. Students are allowed to choose whether they attend either Muslim- or Christian-oriented classes.

The Government has not taken any specific steps to promote interfaith understanding.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.

At the end of the period covered by this report, 60 percent of the country was under the control of rebel forces. There were no reports of restrictions on religious freedom in areas controlled by rebels. Some Roman Catholic clergy in rebel controlled areas were able to continue their work during the period covered by this report.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

While government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion, rebel groups operating in the country committed a number of abuses.

Rebels have targeted Roman Catholic priests and nuns, largely on the assumption that the Church would pay ransom for their return. Some religious leaders were targeted by rebels for their peacekeeping activities as members of civil society, not because of their religion. For example, on July 21, 2000, rebels from the West Side Boys abducted 4 church workers, allegedly because they feared an attack by the Government, and released them after 10 days. On September 7, 2000, Revolutionary United Front insurgents abducted two missionary priests and brought them to Sierra Leone. The priests were not mistreated and were allowed some freedom of movement; they later escaped.

In the past, rebel forces attacked both churches and mosques; however, there were no reports of such attacks during the period covered by this report.

Forced Religious Conversions

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

There are amicable relations between the various religious communities, and interfaith marriage is common. The Inter-Religious Council (IRC), composed of Christian and Muslim leaders, plays a vital role in civil society and actively participates in efforts to further the peace process. The IRC criticizes the use of force and atrocities committed by the rebels, endorses reconciliation and peace talks, and facilitates rehabilitation of the victims affected by the war, including former child soldiers.

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 Ambassador is in frequent contact with the IRC and its individual members.



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