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; however, there were fewer reports than in previous years.
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 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 approximately 15,420,000. 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. Approximately half of Christians are Catholic, 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; 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. Other ethnic groups, known collectively as the Kirdi, generally practice some form of Islam. 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.
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.
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 (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 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 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 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. 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 executive branch rather than by the judiciary.
Missionary groups are present in the country and operate without impediment.
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.
The Catholic Church operates one of the country's few modern private printing presses, and a weekly newspaper, "L'Effort Camerounais." A private radio station, "Radio Reine," founded by a Catholic priest but not affiliated with the Catholic Church, continues to broadcast in Yaounde while its official authorization remains pending. 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, but had not yet begun broadcasting by the end of the period covered by this report for fear of being shut down for broadcasting illegally.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Government officials criticized and questioned any criticisms of the Government by religious institutions and leaders, but there were no reports that government officials used force to suppress such criticism.
In April 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 unknown origin.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The sites and personnel of religious institutions were not exempt from the widespread human rights abuses committed by government security forces; however, there were fewer reports than in previous years. On July 1, 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.
No action reportedly was taken against the members of the security forces who attacked and beat parishioners at Notre Dame de Sept Douleurs in April 2000.
On April 20, 2001, Appolinaire Ndi, a parish priest in the Yaounde diocese, was killed. On May 18, 2001, Father Henri Djeneka, a Polish priest at St. Andrew's Parish Karna in Ngoundere, was shot and killed. An investigation was ongoing into both killings at the end of 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 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 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. 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.
In June 2000, 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. 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.