The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination. It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, national reconciliation, and social cohesion. It forbids speech that encourages religious hatred. In late August, following sometimes violent protests against President Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term in office, Catholic Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, acting in what he said was his personal capacity, gave a press conference in which he said the President’s candidacy was “not necessary.” The Cardinal stated there was “increasing radicalization” across the political spectrum and “unacceptable violence” during the protests. He called for peace and reconciliation in the lead-up to the October presidential election. Following the Cardinal’s statement, members of the ruling coalition, including Catholic cabinet ministers, held a press conference at the Catholic cathedral in Abidjan and said the Cardinal’s words did not help calm “rising societal tensions” in the country. Some commentators, both supportive and critical of the administration, suggested Kutwa’s statement showed he supported the opposition, although Kutwa repeatedly denied having any political affiliation. Posters on social media self-identifying as Muslim accused the Cardinal of opposing the President, also a Muslim, because of the President’s religion. In March, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government met with religious leaders of a wide spectrum of faiths to ask them to encourage their followers to respect government decrees related to COVID-19, in particular, a 15-day ban on meetings of more than 50 persons. Many religious groups then cancelled religious services and closed places of worship temporarily.
The director of the nationwide Islamic radio station and television network Al-Bayane, an imam, stated that he had a strong relationship with Christian leaders, including the Archbishop of Abidjan, and stressed the similarities between the monotheistic religions practiced in the country. A Catholic priest serving as spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Abidjan said relations between religious communities of different faiths were generally “warm,” particularly between Christian and Muslim leaders. Religious leaders and civil society representatives stated that leaders across the religious spectrum were broadly united in their desire to work toward peace and reconciliation, particularly in the context of the presidential election.
U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with religious leaders throughout the year. Embassy representatives hosted virtual roundtable discussions with religious community leaders and met with the director of the nationwide Islamic radio network and television station, Al-Bayane, several times. Some discussions focused on the role of religious media outlets in promoting peace, social cohesion, and religious freedom, particularly in the context of the October presidential election.
The constitution requires the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state. Despite international attention to an alleged attack on the Orthodox Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in November in Axum, in Tigray Region, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) stated that there was no evidence this event occurred, while local human rights groups could not confirm the allegation without on-the-ground verification. The EHRC based its findings on a rapid investigative mission sent to the area. The EOTC deployed a task force to provide humanitarian assistance in Tigray, and one of its senior representatives said reports of the Axum attack were unfounded and false. In August, there were reports that government security forces killed two imams (one with his wife and infant) and injured a third in Assasa and Shashemene towns in Oromia Region in the wake of August 17 and 18 protests demanding the release of Oromo opposition politicians. The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) released a statement condemning the acts. Government security forces also broke into mosques in Shashemene and Kofele in Oromia Region, injuring a religious leader and his student in one incident and opening fire on a mosque in another; no one was injured in the second incident.
A number of human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise. However, because ethnicity and religion are closely linked, and because criminality also played a role, it was difficult to characterize many incidents as solely based on religious identity. On September 6, 7, and 13, an unidentified armed group attacked several villages in the Bulen, Guba, and Wembera woredas (county equivalent) in the Metekel Zone of Benishangul Gumuz Region. The armed group stole livestock, ambushed travelers on roads, robbed communities, attacked churches, and killed approximately 160 civilians. Following the attacks, EOTC followers closed churches, fled the affected areas, and hid public signs and displays of their faith. On August 26, the EOTC released a statement saying that 67 of its followers were killed in Oromia Region during violence that followed the killing of the popular nationalist singer Hachalu Hundessa. The EOTC sent teams to investigate the affected areas where they concluded EOTC members were specifically targeted. According to a Christian aid organization, between Hachalu’s killing on June 29 and the beginning of September, groups of Oromo youth belonging to a nationalist youth movement called “Qeerroo” targeted and killed a number of Christians in Oromia Region. Human rights organizations and others, however, stated that it was unclear if the attacks in Oromia Region were religiously motivated. A local nongovernmental organization (NGO) that also conducted an assessment stated that the perpetrators used ethnic slurs when killing their victims, some of whom were Christian. On January 19 to 20, clashes between youths led to several deaths and destruction of property during the EOTC’s Epiphany celebrations in Dire Dawa, Harar, and Abomssa in the Arsi Zone of Oromia Region. The region’s police commissioner reported that 19 individuals, including 15 security personnel, suffered minor injuries and public and private property was destroyed.
The U.S. Secretary of State met with the Interreligious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE) in February to discuss the important role religious leaders play in social cohesion and to understand how the IRCE was engaging communities to decrease tensions before the national elections. U.S. embassy officials also engaged religious leaders at senior levels and during times of crisis to advocate for peaceful conflict resolution. The embassy reached out to key religious leaders in July during the violence surrounding the killing of Hachalu and called for calm. The embassy also reached out to religious leaders in Beninshangul Gumuz in September to understand the nature and targets of the attacks. The embassy funded a program to build religious cohesion with more than 25 influential community and religious leaders in Harar, Dire Dawa, and Jijiga. The project’s goal was to identify and mitigate violent conflict, create strategies for preventing electoral violence and developing community peacebuilding coalitions, and promote religious tolerance.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. Any religious group seeking official recognition must receive government approval by law, a multistep process requiring documentary support. The Bureau of Worship, a unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), continued to provide some preferential treatment to the Roman Catholic Church, including a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. Vodou and Muslim representatives said their religious groups still struggled to gain support for registration and financial assistance for their educational institutions. Islamic groups said they continued to wait for official government recognition. From March to July, the government suspended all public gatherings of more than five persons, including religious services, to limit the spread of COVID-19. In March, police arrested 32 individuals of various religious affiliations throughout the country for violating the restrictions. In late July, religious leaders said some of the government’s COVID-19 measures were unfair because businesses and government agencies were permitted to reopen, while houses of worship were not. Vodou and Islamic organizations said their exclusion as official COVID-19 relief implementing partners was discriminatory. In July, Christian groups objected to the government’s new penal code, which enters into force within two years, because it included significant protections for LGBTI persons, the decriminalization of abortions, and the lowering of the age of sexual consent from 16 to 15.
In August, Hope Ministry reported what it considered the targeted killing of a Presbyterian pastor by unidentified individuals who shot the pastor and no other persons riding in a vehicle with the pastor. During the year, priests and pastors were among the hundreds of victims of gang-related kidnappings for ransom. In July, a Catholic Church representative said the country’s general insecurity hindered the movement and flow of resources to support social initiatives. According to media, the Evangelical Baptist Union Mission of Haiti (UEBH) had to relocate church activities and ministries from Boulos, near Port au Prince, due to gang activity in the area. Various religious organizations, including the Haitian Pastors Conference, publicly condemned the country’s continuing political and social instability. According to Vodou leaders, there were no killings of Vodou priests during the year, compared with one killing in 2019. As in previous years, Vodou leaders said non-Vodou followers often mischaracterized their religion as sinister. In September, Landy Mathurin, President of the Haitian Muslims National Council, said the population generally respected Muslims, including their right to wear the hijab.
In January, a Department of State official visited the country to discuss the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, particularly addressing registration issues. During the visit, he and U.S. embassy officials met with senior MFA officials and discussed fair and equal treatment for all religious groups. Throughout the year, embassy representatives regularly met with MFA officials and religious representatives, including through virtual meetings, to discuss religious freedom.