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Religious Liberty in Africa (Part 3 of 3)

Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, JULY 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Aid to the Church in Need released a report on religious freedom around the world.

Part 1 published on Catholic Online.
Part 2 published on Catholic Online.



Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, local authorities in Rwanda often restrict this right, intervening above all against the Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses whose children, in some provinces, are expelled from schools. The constitution forbids political parties from indicating any religious belonging. Hence the former Islamic Democratic Party has had to change its name to the Democratic Party for an Ideal.

A 2001 law states that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must register, indicating their objectives and activities, so as to obtain approval from local authorities and then present a request to the Ministry of Justice. It is necessary to report that registration procedures are difficult and therefore many organizations work with no authorization.

If religious functions are held at night, the authorities must be told in advance; in the past in fact, groups of rebels described their night time meetings used for aggressions as "religious meetings." It is also for this reason that the government requires religious meetings to be held in places of worship and not in private homes.

Missionaries can operate freely but must register. In state schools religious instruction is permitted, often as an alternative to morals courses; and Catholic, Protestant and Islamic schools are also allowed.

Since 2003 there has been a ban -- although both churches have appealed this in court -- on the United Methodist Church of Rwanda led by Jupa Kaberuka and on the Community of the International Methodist Union led by Louis Bwanakweli.

Between April and June 1994, between half a million and eight hundred thousand people were massacred in Rwanda by the Hutu extremists; thousands more were then killed in Tutsi revenge attacks in the months that followed, resulting, according to the government, in a total of about 937 thousand victims.

For years now, tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned, accused of having participated in the genocide, but the special tribunal set up by the United Nations has only managed to hold a few dozen trials. Most of these -- only those concerning minor players who followed orders from their superiors, ordinary soldiers and ordinary people -- have all been moved to ordinary courts.

The first trial was held at the beginning of March in Mayange, 60 kilometers (approximately 37 miles) south of the capital Kigali, and was followed by those held by 750 other courts that have finished investigations and can therefore hold the trials according to a system based on confessions and that wishes to allow reconciliation between the victims and the accused: Those who confess and acknowledge their guilt receive greatly reduced sentences.

According to the government's data, almost one million people may be involved in these hearings -- in practice one inhabitant in every eight -- considering that the "Gacaca" can arrest a person even only due to simple "suspicion." The creation of these tribunals has therefore resulted in thousands of accused people fleeing, attempting to take refuge in Burundi -- unsuccessfully however, considering that the authorities have sent back the refugees. In July about 25 thousand prisoners were freed, among them those who confessed, the elderly and the sick.

The Catholic Church, in particular, is frequently accused of wishing to protect priests reportedly involved in the genocide and of not wanting to assume its own responsibilities.

On Sept. 6 while waiting to leave for Belgium, Father Guy Theunis, who belongs to the order of the Missionaries of Africa, was arrested at Kigali Airport, and accused of genocide.

Violence against the Jehovah's Witnesses continues, in particular because of their rejection of the ideas and symbols of state sovereignty and national unity, such as, for example, the custom, not however sanctioned by law, for hands to be placed on the national flag during marriages.

Senegal, Sierra Leone

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has announced that in December 2006 the country will host a summit of the Islamic Conference Organization, and then also a meeting addressed at the dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

In an interview given on Feb. 24 to the "Yemen Observer," the president also stated that there is the need for a close dialogue between the leaders of the various religions present in the country, ...

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