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Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs.  Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups.  Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

 

Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country.  Indigenous religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities.  The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.  There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity, political, or socioeconomic status.

The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice.  Religious-based attacks and kidnappings continued in the Sahel Region and increased in the East Region.  A number of domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated in the country throughout the year.  The government believed individuals associated with these terrorist and extremist groups carried out the majority of religious-based attacks during the year.  The government continued to subsidize travel costs for Muslim Hajj pilgrims and allocated subsidies to the four largest religious groups (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional/animist).

In April individuals affiliated with groups identified by local authorities as terrorist and extremist kidnapped a public schoolteacher in the Sahel Region, based on their stated belief that French is the language of infidels and all education should be conducted in Arabic.  In May individuals affiliated with these groups burned down a public schoolhouse and a Muslim teacher’s house in the Center-North Region, stating the instruction was not Islamic.  In September individuals affiliated with these groups burned and vandalized several schools and teachers’ houses in the East Region with a warning against secular teaching during the upcoming school year.  Individuals affiliated with these groups kidnapped a Catholic catechist and a Christian pastor in the Sahel Region in May and June, respectively; both were later released without incident.  In September individuals affiliated with these groups attacked two separate mosques and killed two imams in the East Region.

In September unidentified individuals vandalized a Catholic church, removing the heads of religious statues in the southwest area of the country.  These incidents highlighted what observers and media described as increased targeting of adherents of all religious denominations across the country.

Embassy staff regularly discussed issues affecting religious freedom with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization as well as with religious leaders at the national and local levels to promote religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and civil dialogue.  Embassy staff also discussed the increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and East Regions, with the government, including the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President.  In May the Ambassador hosted an iftar with Muslim youth from the Mali and Niger border regions to promote and discuss religious freedom, and in July the Ambassador hosted religious leaders from a wide spectrum of religious groups in Kaya in the Center-North Region for a wide-ranging discussion.  The U.S. embassy regularly promoted religious tolerance, particularly with individuals from the regions of the country more affected by conflict, such as during a forum on good governance for mayors from the Sahel Region in March.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs.  Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups.  Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country.  Indigenous religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities.  The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.  There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity, political, or socioeconomic status.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice.  The constitution states freedom of belief is subject to respect for law, public order, good morals, and “the human person.”  Political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or regional affiliation are forbidden.

The law allows all organizations, religious or otherwise, to register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security, which is in charge of religious affairs.  The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of remains; helps organize religious pilgrimages; promotes and fosters interreligious dialogue and peace; and develops and implements measures for the erection of places of worship and the registration of religious organizations and religious congregations.  Registration confers legal status, and the process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($88).  Religious organizations are not required to register unless they seek legal recognition by the government, but after they are registered, they must comply with applicable regulations required of all registered organizations or be subject to a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($88 to $260).

Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities.  The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may request copies of proposed publications and broadcasts to verify they are in accordance with the nature of the religious group as stated in their registration, and it may conduct permit application reviews due to an identified increase in falsified membership lists.

The government generally does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities.  The government provides subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity.  The government taxes religious groups only if they engaged in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production.

Religious education is not allowed in public schools.  Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education.  These schools are permitted to provide religious instruction to their students.  By law schools (religious or not) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy; however, the government does not appoint or approve these officials.  The government reviews the curricula of new religious schools as they open and others periodically to ensure they offer the full standard academic curriculum; however, the majority of Quranic schools are not registered, and thus their curricula not reviewed.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($132,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities.  Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country.  The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public school teachers.

In July the government allocated approximately one billion CFA francs ($1.76 million) to subsidize the costs of 8,100 Muslims for the Hajj.  The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

A number of domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated in the country throughout the year.  These included Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and Al-Mourabitoun.

On September 17, individuals affiliated with groups identified by local authorities as terrorist and extremist killed an imam and six others, including members of his family, during an attack on a mosque in Diabiga, a village approximately 35 miles from Pama in the East Region.  On September 25, individuals affiliated with these groups killed the imam in Kompienbiga, a village nine miles from Pama in the East Region.

On April 12, suspected members of the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Islamic State of the Greater Sahara kidnapped a schoolteacher from Bouro primary school in Nassoubou commune in the northern area of the country for teaching in French rather than Arabic.  The action followed the 2017 killings of a headmaster, as well as several other teachers and students, by individuals affiliated with groups identified as terrorist and extremist conducting an intimidation campaign to impose Quranic education in place of the secular curriculum and replace French with Arabic.  The United Nations reported this intimidation campaign, predominately waged against government-supported public schools, led to the closure of 473 of the 644 primary schools in the North and Sahel Regions by midyear and left 65,000 pupils and 2,000 teachers out of school.

On May 20, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist kidnapped Catholic catechist Mathieu Sawadogo and his wife Alizeta in Arbinda, located approximately 60 miles from Djibo.  Sawadogo and his wife were released several weeks later without incident.  The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, and Protestant and Catholic representatives confirmed their release.

On June 3, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist kidnapped Pierre Boena, an Assembly of God pastor, in the village of Bilhore, Soum Province, in Sahel Region.  Three members of his family – his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter – were also abducted.  According to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the pastor and his family were released without harm after four days of captivity.

On May 2, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist burned down a schoolhouse and teacher housing in the village of Guenbila, near Kaya in the Center-North Region.  Sources stated that the individuals carried out the attack as part of an intimidation campaign against secular education in the region.  On September 8, individuals affiliated with these groups burned and ransacked three primary schools and teacher housing units in Tankoalou, in the East Region.  Sources stated that the individuals carried out the attack as a warning against secular schools opening at the beginning of the school year.  This was the first attack against schools in the East Region.

The government, religious leaders, and civil society organizations reported increased vigilance on the part of communities in light of the spate of religious-focused violence and kidnappings during the year.  Sources stated that previously, attacks carried out by individuals authorities suspected to be extremists targeted military personnel and civil servants, leaving civilians generally untroubled.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 16, unknown individuals vandalized a Catholic church, removed the heads from religious statues, and left a message citing Bible verses warning against religious idolatry in the village of Dissin in Ioba Province.

Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the (Protestant) Federation of Evangelical Churches stated that despite the increase in religious-focused attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations.  Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions, such as the National Observatory of Religious Facts, which conducted awareness campaigns and mediation throughout the country.  They also worked through nongovernmental organizations such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct socioeconomic activities with the goal of fostering religious tolerance.  The Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou cited an interfaith Eid al-Adha celebration in August, in which Christian religious leaders participated alongside their Muslim counterparts, in what they stated was an effort to promote religious tolerance in the country.

New Muslim and Protestant congregations opened without approval and oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations, continuing a trend from the previous year.  Religious leaders stated the Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups not falling under their oversight that took positions counter to the federation’s messages of tolerance.  They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for the official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy staff regularly discussed events and policies affecting religious freedom, including the equitable registration process for religious groups, the equitable treatment of religious groups by the government, and the status of the relationship between different religious groups with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization.

The Ambassador and embassy officials met separately with Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders throughout the country, at the local and national levels, to encourage their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and advocate for religious tolerance and freedom.

In March the embassy organized a forum on good governance for all the mayors from the Sahel Region that included a session on countering violent extremism.  The session focused on leadership, community development, and the promotion of religious tolerance.

From May 22-24, during Ramadan, the embassy organized and hosted an “Iftar Decouverte” (Ramadan discovery trip) for a group of 50 students ages 13-17 and 17 teachers from Quranic schools in which only traditional Islamic curriculum is taught.  The schools were located in the remote villages of the northern regions bordering Mali and Niger.  The trip ended with an iftar focused on religious freedom hosted by the Ambassador alongside the Minister of Territorial Administration, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the General Secretary of the National Muslim Federation.

On May 29, embassy representatives visited two Quranic schools located in the villages of Boussouma and Lilboure in the Center-North Region.  During the visit, the marabouts (traditional Islamic leaders), some of whom also attended the Iftar Decouverte, pointed to the positive impact embassy programs had in promoting civic engagement and religious freedom by countering extremist narratives.

On July 19, the Ambassador invited the Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leadership of Kaya in the Center-North Region to a breakfast to discuss religious freedom, youth unemployment, and domestic violence among their communities.

On August 14, the Ambassador met with Cheick Boubacar Doukoure, a prominent Fulani religious leader and advocate for peace.  Their discussion focused on potential strategies to engage Quranic schools and Muslim leaders in the promotion of religious tolerance.

Chad

Executive Summary

A new constitution enacted in May establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state.  It provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion.  It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that inhibits national unity.  The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi association, but enforcement of the ban was difficult.  Those practicing this interpretation of Islam continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.  In April the Catholic Episcopal Bishops Conference criticized the constitutional revision process and called for additional consultation and a referendum.  In May during the inauguration of the new government, two Christian incoming ministers refused to swear the required oath of office in the name of “Allah”; one minister who refused to take any oath in the name of God was immediately fired by President Idriss Deby.  Religious groups and civil society continued to express concern about the required oath of office, stating it was contrary to the secular nature of the state and excluded Christians.

Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks and to advocate for security in places of worship.  On National Prayer Day, November 28, religious leaders, including the secretary general of the Chadian Evangelical Umbrella Organization (EEMET), the Catholic Archbishop of N’Djamena, and the head of the High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA), publicly stated they supported the president’s statements advocating religious tolerance.

The U.S. Ambassador hosted an iftar in May for religious leaders, including Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Baha’i representatives, and government officials, and a second iftar specifically for women, including government officials, journalists, and representatives of civil society organizations.  Participants in both events discussed religious freedom and tolerance.  The Ambassador and other embassy representatives maintained a dialogue with Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders on religious freedom and supported outreach programs that encouraged religious tolerance and mutual understanding, such as International Religious Freedom Day in October, in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15.8 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent census, in 2014-15, 52.1 percent of the population is Muslim, 23.9 percent Protestant, 20 percent Roman Catholic, 0.3 percent animist, 0.2 percent other Christian, 2.8 percent no religion, and 0.7 percent unspecified.  Most Muslims adhere to the Sufi Tijaniyah tradition.  A small minority hold beliefs associated with Wahhabism or Salafism.  The majority of Protestants are evangelical Christians.  There are also small numbers of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Most northerners practice Islam, and most southerners practice Christianity or indigenous religions; religious distribution is mixed in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The new constitution enacted in May establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state.  The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion.  These rights may be regulated by law and may be limited by law only to ensure mutual respect for the rights of others and for the “imperative” of safeguarding public order and good morals.  It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that infringes on national unity or the secular nature of the state.

The new constitution requires an oath of office for ministers, which was not previously required of ministers or bureaucrats.  Article 105 states, “The president of the republic appoints ministers.  Before taking office, the ministers take an oath before the president of the republic according to the denominational formula stated by the law.”  The law originally stated that those sworn in must take an oath under “Allah”; however, after criticism it was changed to “under God” or “under Allah” in June.

Under the law, all associations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance.  The associations must provide a list of all the founding members and their positions in the organization, founders’ resumes, copies of the founders’ identification cards, minutes of the establishment meetings, a letter to the minister requesting registration, principal source of the organization’s revenue, address of the organization, a copy of its rules and procedures, and statutory documents of the organization.  The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance conducts background checks on every founding member and establishes a six-month temporary, but renewable, authorization to operate, pending final authorization and approval.  Failure to register with the ministry means that organizations are not considered legal entities and may not open bank accounts or enter into contracts; it may also lead to the banning of a group.  Group founders or board members may be subject to one month to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($83 to $830).  Registration does not confer tax preferences or other benefits.

Burqas, defined by ministerial notice as any garment where one sees only the eyes, are forbidden by ministerial decree.  The ministerial notice also applies to niqabs, although this is not widely enforced.

The constitution states public education shall be secular.  The government prohibits religious instruction in public schools but permits religious groups to operate private schools.

The government-created HCIA oversees Islamic religious activities, including some Arabic language schools and institutions of higher learning, and represents the country at international Islamic forums.  Wahhabis are not officially represented on the council and are banned by the government.  The Grand Imam of N’Djamena, who is selected by a committee of Muslim elders and approved by the government, is the de facto president of the HCIA and oversees the grand imams from each of the country’s 23 regions.  He has the authority to restrict Muslim groups from proselytizing, regulate the content of mosque sermons, and control activities of Islamic charities.  In practice, he does not regulate sermons.

The constitution states military service is obligatory and prohibits invoking religious belief to “avoid an obligation dictated by the national interest.”  The government does not enforce conscription, however.

The Office of the Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs under the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance oversees religious matters.  The office is responsible for mediating intercommunal conflict, reporting on religious practices, coordinating religious pilgrimages, and ensuring religious freedom.

According to regulations of the College of Control and Monitoring Oil Revenues, the government board that oversees the distribution of oil revenues, Muslim and Christian leaders share a rotational position on the board.  The position is held for three years and may be renewed only once.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi group, Ansar-al Suna; however, enforcement was difficult and adherents continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.  They also continued to receive revenue through their leaders or from individuals.

In April the Episcopal Bishops Conference of Chad, representing Catholic bishops in the country, publicly criticized the constitutional revision process, calling for additional consultation and a referendum in place of the parliamentary adoption vote.  The bishops expressed their concern that the process had the potential to create “serious division” among citizens.  They further stated that the oath of office directly contradicts both the first article of the new constitution, which affirms the country as a secular state, and Article 14, which assures “equality before the law without distinction as to origin, race, gender, religion, public opinion, or social position.”

During the May 10 investiture ceremony for the new cabinet, ministers were required to take an oath of office for the first time since the country gained independence in 1960.  The oath of office used at the investiture ceremony included the phrase “in the name of Allah the Almighty.”  During the ceremony, two new ministers who were Christian refused to swear the oath of office.  Madeleine Alingue, the incoming Minister of Postal Services, refused to swear in the name of “Allah” and substituted the word “God.”  After initially balking at this formulation, President of the Supreme Court Samir Adam Annour accepted this oath, by some reports after intervention by President Deby.  Rosine Amane Djibergui, a Protestant Christian and the incoming minister of civil aviation, refused to take the oath at all, saying her Christian faith prohibited her from making oaths or swearing on the Bible.  President Deby fired her on the spot and announced her replacement.

Civil society and religious groups continued to express concern about the new oath of office, some on grounds it was contrary to the secular nature of the state and others because they said it excluded Christians.  During the July 16 meeting organized by the EEMET, pastors unanimously opposed the oath of office along confessional lines on the principle that the country is a secular state, specifying that the oath should not include any religious connotation.  They stated that the oath of office directly contradicted the first article of the new constitution, which affirms the country as a secular state, and Article 14, which assures “equality before the law without distinction as to origin, race, gender, religion, public opinion, or social position.”

Due to economic and financial constraints, the government discontinued its long-running public education campaign in the national media to inform individuals of the burqa ban.

The government continued to deploy security forces around both Islamic and Christian places of worship, in particular on Fridays around mosques and Sundays around churches, as well as other occasions for religious events.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks and to advocate for continued additional security in places of worship.

The Regional Forum on Interfaith Dialogue, comprising representatives of evangelical Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, and the Islamic community, met regularly.  In November at National Prayer Day, they publicly reiterated their commitment to educate their respective groups on the necessity of peaceful cohabitation.

Catholic Archbishop of N’Djamena Edmond Jitangar continued to seek funds from nongovernmental and international sources for reconstruction of the Catholic cathedral in N’Djamena, which was damaged in 1980 during the country’s civil war and which remained closed.  In May he announced the creation of an association based in France to support fundraising for the project.

Muslims and Christians commonly attended each other’s ceremonies and celebrations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador hosted an iftar in May attended by 50 religious leaders, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Baha’i representatives, and government officials.  At the iftar, attendees discussed religious freedom and tolerance in the country.  A second iftar, held specifically for women, included 41 participants, including government officials, journalists, and representatives of civil society organizations.  Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with imams in training sessions and workshops to promote tolerance and human rights, such as the nomination of an HCIA member to an interfaith dialogue workshop.  The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with the Grand Imam of N’Djamena and with Catholic, Protestant, and Baha’i leaders to monitor and promote religious freedom and tolerance, as well as to discuss efforts to counter extremist messages related to religion.

Mali

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law.  The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom.  On January 31, the government adopted a new national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy that included interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance.  The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship was responsible for administering the national CVE strategy, in addition to promoting religious tolerance and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.

Terrorist groups used violence and launched attacks against civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam.  In the center of the country, affiliates of Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) attacked multiple towns in Mopti Region, threatening Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities, reportedly for heresy.

Muslim religious leaders condemned extremist interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned religious extremism.  Some Christian missionaries expressed concern about the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist.  Religious leaders, including Muslims and Catholics, jointly called for peace among all faiths at a celebration marking Eid al-Fitr in June hosted by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.  In January Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious leaders called for peace and solidary among faiths at a conference organized by the youth of the Protestant community.  The president of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCI) and other notable religious leaders announced the necessity for all religious leaders to work toward national unity and social cohesion.

The U.S. embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and promote peace and reconciliation.  The secretary general, second-ranking official of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, participated in an exchange program on countering violent extremism.  Embassy officials met with the president and vice president of the HCI and called upon their interlocutors to promote peace and tolerance among religions.  The Ambassador spoke about religious tolerance at public events and on social media.  The U.S. government sponsored numerous programs to support religious diversity and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 18.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to statistics of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, Muslims constitute an estimated 95 percent of the population.  Nearly all Muslims are Sunni and most follow Sufism.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Christians, of whom approximately two-thirds are Roman Catholic and one-third Protestant, groups with indigenous religious beliefs, and those with no religious affiliation.  Groups adhering to indigenous religious beliefs reside throughout the country but mostly in rural areas.  Many Muslims and Christians also adhere to some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  The ministry estimates fewer than 1,000 individuals in Bamako and an unknown number outside of the capital are associated with the Muslim group Dawa al-Tablig.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of religion in conformity with the law.

According to the penal code, any act of discrimination based on religion or any act impeding the freedom of religious observance or worship is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment or 10 years’ banishment (prohibition from residing in the country).  The penal code also states any religiously motivated persecution of a group of persons constitutes a crime against humanity.  There is no statute of limitations for such crimes.

The law requires registration of all public associations, including religious groups, except for groups practicing indigenous religious beliefs; however, registration confers no tax preferences or other legal benefits, and there is no penalty for failure to register.  To register, applicants must submit copies of a declaration of intent to create an association, notarized copies of bylaws, copies of policies and regulations, notarized copies of a report of the first meeting of the association’s general assembly, and lists of the names of the leaders of the association with signature samples of three of the leaders.  Upon review, if approved, the Ministry of Territorial Administration grants the certificate of registration.

The constitution prohibits public schools from offering religious instruction, but private schools may do so.  Islamic religious schools, which are privately funded and known locally as medersas (a variant of madrassah), teach Islam but are required to adhere to the standard government curriculum.  Non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic religious classes.  Catholic schools teach the standard educational curriculum and do not require Muslim students to attend Catholic religious classes.  Informal schools, known locally as Quranic schools, which some students attend in lieu of public schools, do not follow a government curriculum and offer exclusively religious instruction.

The law defines marriage as secular.  Couples who seek legal recognition must have a civil ceremony, which they may follow with a religious ceremony.  Under the law, a man may choose between a monogamous or polygamous marriage.  The law states that the religious customs of the deceased determine inheritance rights.  Civil courts consider these customs when they adjudicate such cases; however, many cases are settled informally.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On January 31, the government adopted a new national strategy to counter violent extremism.  The strategy was based on five pillars:  Prevention, Protection, Pursuit, Response, and Social Cohesion.  Specific objectives outlined in the national strategy include:  eliminating conditions conducive to the development of terrorism and violent extremism, including but not limited to religious outreach and interfaith efforts; prosecuting all perpetrators and accomplices of crimes of violent extremism and terrorism; providing fair and diligent responses in the event of a terrorist attack or acts of violent extremism perpetrated on national territory, with respect for human rights and the rule of law; contributing to the regeneration of a collective identity, including religious tolerance and coexistence, to strengthen the bonds of national solidarity.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship was responsible for administering the national CVE strategy, in addition to promoting religious tolerance and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.  On November 17-18, the ministry organized, in coordination with the archbishop, the annual Catholic pilgrimage in Kita Cercle and called for religious tolerance among faiths, a sentiment echoed by President Keita in an official statement on November 18.  The ministry also continued supporting a training program for moderate Sufi imams in Morocco, one objective of which was to improve interfaith tolerance.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission continued operating through the year.  In December it opened its field office in Kidal Region.  By year’s end, the commission heard 10,102 testimonies, including cases of religious freedom violations.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Throughout the year, mostly in the country’s central and northern regions, domestic and transnational violent terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb affiliates Ansar al-Dine, Macina Liberation Front, and Al-Mourabitoun, united under the umbrella JNIM, continued to carry out attacks against security forces, UN peacekeepers, civilians, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam.

According to eyewitness and media reporting, on September 11, in the town of Hombori, Mopti Region, armed men believed to be JNIM affiliates interrupted a party by firing in the air, threatened those in attendance, and vandalized the venue.  The men announced that playing music and dancing were not acceptable in Islam.

According to church leaders in the town of Barareli, Mopti Region, on December 30, armed men believed to be affiliated with JNIM fired on the town’s church while Christian youth were gathered for Bible study.  No injuries were reported.

According to Christian leaders, continued threats from JNIM prevented the Christian community in Djidja from reopening its church that was closed due to threats from JNIM in 2017.  Six church workers who fled the area remained displaced at year’s end.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim and non-Muslim religious leaders frequently and jointly condemned extremist interpretations of Islam.  For example, on November 13, following a car bombing on the UN Mine Action Service headquarters in Gao, representatives of the umbrella organization Malian Muslim associations condemned the attack, which they said was against all faiths.

Some Christian missionaries expressed concern about the increased influence of organizations in remote areas they characterized as violent and extremist, which they believed could affect their ability to continue working in the country in the long term.

In the June Eid al-Fitr celebration hosted by President Keita, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders renewed their calls for peace and tolerance among all faiths.

In January Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious leaders called for peace and solidary among faiths at a conference organized by the youth of the Protestant community.

The government named Protestant umbrella organization leader and pastor Nouh Ag Hinfa Yattara head of the Solidarity and Fight against Exclusion Month, celebrated in October each year.  Yattara led a religiously diverse group of notables that made monetary donations to vulnerable citizens and the elderly in Bamako and throughout the country.

In the months leading up to August presidential elections, HCI President Mahamoud Dicko emphasized the necessity for all religious leaders to work toward national unity and social cohesion.  Prior to elections, local media reported clergy organized prayers in mosques and churches for peaceful elections.

Members of religious groups commonly attended the religious ceremonies of other religious groups, especially baptisms, weddings, and funerals.  For example, in June the Archbishop of Bamako accompanied President Keita to offer greetings and pay formal respects to the “founding families of Bamako.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In conjunction with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, the embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism in the amount of $3.5 million in the first year of a five-year program.  The CVE interventions targeted vulnerable communities to support and build capacity to address conflict, radicalization, and violent extremism related to religion and to help bring peace and reconciliation to the country.  The secretary general, second-ranking official of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, participated in a U.S. government exchange program on countering violent extremism.

Embassy officers spoke with a wide range of influential religious leaders and human rights organizations, including the president and vice president of the HCI.  Embassy officials called on religious leaders to advocate for tolerance and peace among religious groups and together organized more than a dozen activities to emphasize the importance of religious tolerance and freedom.  The activities included the Kalata Mankantan Tolerant Elections Campaign and Concert Series in July, which consisted of six events and involved more than 50,000 participants, and the “Living Together” civil society workshop and focus group in Timbuktu on February 10-12, which included more than 15,000 participants.

The embassy highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media accounts throughout the year.  Some of its most widely shared postings included the Ambassador’s social media posts on Ramadan, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, and especially Eid al-Adha.

Niger

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity.  It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties.  The government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons.  The government also prohibits open-air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns.  An Islamic Forum, created by the government in 2017 with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country and preventing the use of Islamic institutions to spread Islamic extremism, continued to meet regularly and produced draft legislation for the regulation of religious practice.  The government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah came under criticism again when some of the 15,000 sponsored Hajj pilgrims complained of difficulties with high costs, cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor hotels, bad food, and unfair business practices, leaving some travelers unattended in Saudi Arabia.

Representatives of both Muslim and Christian communities reported effective ongoing interactions through a Muslim-Christian forum.  Sources from both Muslim and Christian communities agreed, however, that an underlying stress surrounded the forum, with some Muslim leaders expressing discontent about its existence.

The U.S. ambassador and embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders.  Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance when they met with Muslim and Christian representatives and hosted an interfaith iftar during Ramadan.  The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism and amplifying moderate religious voices.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.9 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), more than 98 percent of the population is Muslim.  Most Muslims are Sunni, with less than 1 percent following the Shia branch of Islam.  Roman Catholics, Protestant groups, and other religious groups account for less than 2 percent of the population.  There are several thousand Baha’is, who reside primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River.  A small percentage of the population adheres primarily to indigenous religious beliefs.  Some animist practices exist culturally among the Muslim majority, although they have become much less common over the past decade.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, specifies separation of religion and state as an unalterable principle, and stipulates equality under the law for all, regardless of religion.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and expression of faith consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity.  The constitution also states no religion or faith shall claim political power or interfere in state affairs and bans political parties based on religious affiliation.

Nongovernmental organizations, including religious organizations, must register with the MOI.  Registration approval is based on submission of required legal documents, including the group’s charter, minutes of the group’s board of directors, annual action plan, and list of the organization’s founders.  Although some unregistered religious organizations reportedly operate without authorization in remote areas, only registered organizations are legally recognized entities.  The MOI requires clerics speaking to a large national gathering either to belong to a registered religious organization or to obtain a special permit.  Nonregistered groups are not legal entities and are not permitted to operate.

Registered religious groups wishing to obtain permanent legal status must undergo a three-year review and probationary period before the Office of Religious Affairs, which is under the MOI, grants a change in legal status from probationary to permanent.

The constitution specifies the president, prime minister, and president of the national assembly must take an oath when assuming office on the holy book of his or her religion.  By law, other senior government officials are also required to take religious oaths upon entering office.

The government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons.

The government prohibits open-air, public proselytization events by all religious groups due to expressed safety concerns.  There is no legal restriction on private peaceful proselytization or conversion of an individual’s personal religious beliefs from one religious faith to another, as long as the group espousing the transition is registered with the government.

The establishment of any private school by a religious association must receive the concurrence of both the MOI and the relevant department of the Ministry of Education (Primary, Secondary, Superior, or Vocational).  Private Quranic schools, established uniquely to teach the Quran without providing other education, are unregulated.  Most public schools do not include religious education.  The government funds a small number of special primary schools (called “French and Arabic Schools”) that include Islamic religious study as part of the curriculum.

There are no restrictions on the issuance of visas for visiting religious representatives; however, long-term residency of foreign religious representatives must be approved by the MOI.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government continued its efforts to reduce radicalization or the risk of radicalization through an Islamic Forum, a national forum representing more than 50 organizations, with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs, within the MOI, initiated the forum in October 2017.  In meetings throughout the year, the forum discussed means to control mosque construction, regulate Quranic instruction, and monitor the content of sermons.  With the input of the forum, the MOI drafted a law during the year that would provide a framework for government control of these aspects of religious practice.  At year’s end, the law remained under ministerial review and, according to the MOI’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, was expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for possible passage in 2019.

Government officials expressed concern about funding from Iran, Turkey, and other countries for the construction of mosques and training of imams, but according to observers, the government had only limited resources to track the extent of the funding and fully understand its consequences.

Pilgrims complained, as in past years, about difficulties associated with performing the Hajj.  Complaints included high costs, cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor hotels, bad food, and unfair business practices leaving some travelers unattended in Saudi Arabia despite having paid for a package tour.  The government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah came under criticism again, as in past years.  The commission oversaw Hajj participation of 15,000 pilgrims during the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Muslim representatives continued to express concern that Wahhabism’s presence was growing.  There was no survey data to indicate how many Wahhabist mosques there were in the country, or to support or refute the impression of growing influence.  The majority of the population adhered to the Maliki interpretation of Sunni Islam, but there were separatist branches, and representatives of Islamic associations said some imams preached a version of Islam they stated may have been Wahhabist.

The Muslim-Christian Interfaith Forum continued to meet, bringing together representatives of Islamic associations and Christian churches for regular meetings to discuss interfaith cooperation.  According to representatives of both Christian and Muslim groups, there were generally good relations between Muslims and Christians; however, according to some religious leaders, a minority of Muslims rejected closer ties between Muslims and Christians as a corruption of the true faith and therefore resented the forum.  These same representatives of the Interfaith Forum said that the practice of observing each other’s religious holidays was decreasing, and that they had a general sense that relations between Christians and Muslims had deteriorated mildly, largely due to social pressure for increased Islamic conservativism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. ambassador and embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders.  The ambassador raised religious freedom with the minister of interior and the foreign minister, praising the country’s secular constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, and encouraging broad engagement of Muslim associations in the government’s efforts to regulate Quranic schools and Friday sermons.

The ambassador and embassy representatives met with representatives of Muslim and Christian groups to support inter- and intrafaith dialogues to promote education and reduce early marriages throughout the country.  U.S. embassy officials hosted an iftar, which included Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i leaders; government officials; and members of civil society.  At the event, an embassy official delivered remarks emphasizing the importance of interfaith tolerance.

The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying moderate voices.

Senegal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government restarted a lapsed campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic religious schools.  The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.

Local and international NGOs continued their efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known locally as daaras); the organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students at daaras as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to government statistics from the 2014 census, 96.1 percent of the population is Muslim.  Most Muslims are Sunni and belong to one of several Sufi brotherhoods, each of which incorporates unique practices.  There are approximately 5,000 Shia Muslims, according to an unofficial 2011 estimate.  Approximately 3.8 percent of the population is Christian.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs.  The remaining 0.1 percent exclusively adheres to indigenous religions or professes no religion.

The Christian minority is located in towns in the west and south.  Members of indigenous religious groups live mainly in the east and south.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference.  The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion.  It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.

Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes.  Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.

By law, all faith-based organizations, including religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association.  To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association.  Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, activities, or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding.  They must also pass a background check.  Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions.  There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

The law requires associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate.  This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement.  Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By law, religious education may be offered in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.  The government permits up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools.  The government allows parents to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum.  Parents have the opportunity to allow their children to opt out of the curriculum.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of students at some daaras, where young children sometimes resided.  Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg.  Local media and NGOs continued to document cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by certain marabouts, or Quranic schoolteachers.  Human Rights Watch reported tens of thousands of children suffered from abuse in 2017.  Civil society and children’s rights advocates reprised their appeals to the government to implement more effective regulation of daaras and to prosecute Quranic teachers who committed serious violations against children.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with federal and local government officials in Dakar and with local authorities in Saint Louis to discuss conditions faced by daara students as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with civil society representatives and religious leaders in the central regions of Thies, Diourbel, Louga, and Fatick to discuss these issues.  As part of their continuing engagement with religious figures, including leadership of the main Islamic brotherhoods, as well as with civil society, embassy officers emphasized the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  In particular, the Ambassador discussed efforts to combat forced child begging and emphasized religious tolerance with the heads of the country’s two largest Islamic brotherhoods, the Mouride Brotherhood (based in the city of Touba) and the Tidiane Brotherhood (based in the city of Tivaouane).

During Ramadan, the embassy hosted a series of iftars in Dakar and Fatick, geared to different audiences, which focused on diversity as well as religious tolerance and inclusion.  Attendees at the different events included local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society.

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