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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Djibouti

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999

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DJIBOUTI

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution, while declaring Islam to be the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, proselytizing is discouraged.

In May 1999, the new President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, declared that Islam would be a central tenet of his Government, and he named the Qadi, the country's senior judge of Islamic law, as Minister-Delegate for Islamic Affairs under the Ministry of Justice. Although Islam is the state religion, the Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings, or practice other faiths.

The Government requires that religious groups be registered. There were no reports that the Government refused to register any religious groups.

Over 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. There are a small number of Catholics, Protestants, and persons of the Baha'i faith, together accounting for less than 1 percent of the population. The sizeable foreign community supports Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. There are no known practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. As all citizens are considered officially to be Muslim if they do not adhere to another faith, there are no figures available on the number of atheists in the country.

On several occasions, groups of Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians have been detained during prayer meetings, but were released after a few days. These arrests reportedly were due to loud singing that disturbed neighbors or to a general crackdown on illegal residents, rather than to the Ethiopians' religious faith.

There is no legal prohibition against proselytizing, but proselytizing is discouraged. Foreign clergy and missionaries are permitted to perform charitable works and to sell their religious books. A small number of foreign Christian missionary groups operate in the country. The groups, which focus on humanitarian services in the education and health sectors, reportedly faced no harassment during the period covered by this report. Foreign missionary groups are licensed by the Government to run schools.

Religion is not taught in public schools.

Islamic law based on the Koran is used only with regard to family matters, and is administered by the Qadi. Civil marriage is permitted only to non-Muslim foreigners. Muslims are required to marry in a religious ceremony, and non-Muslim men can only marry a Muslim woman after converting to Islam.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion 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 II. Societal Attitudes

The large presence of French Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians for almost a century has led to considerable familiarity and tolerance of other faiths by the Muslim majority.

Persons born as Catholics face no discrimination from Muslim relatives. In many cases, these Catholics are children or grandchildren of persons raised in French Catholic orphanages during the colonial period. In the past, recent converts to other religions have faced some discrimination; however, there were no reports of such discrimination during the period covered by this report.

In Djiboutian Somali society, clan membership has more influence over a person's life than religion. Djiboutian Somalis who are Christians often are buried according to Islamic traditions by relatives who do not recognize their non-Muslim faith.

There is no formal interfaith dialog. The Catholic Church organizes an annual celebration with all the other Christian churches. The Qadi receives Ramadan greetings from Pope John Paul II. He only meets with the heads of other faiths at government-organized ceremonies.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials engage in a regular human rights dialog with officials from the Government. The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. A representative of the U.S. Embassy has met with leaders and practicing members of religious communities and with U.S. nongovernmental organizations with a missionary component.

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