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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Djibouti

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
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DJIBOUTI

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.

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

Citizens generally are very tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion. However, recent converts to other religions have faced some discrimination in the past; there were no reports of such discrimination during the period covered by this report.

U.S. embassy officials engage in a regular human rights dialog with government officials, which includes religious freedom issues. Embassy officers also meet with leaders of the religious communities.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

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.

Although Islam is the state religion, the Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings or practice other faiths. The Qadi is the country's senior judge of Islamic law and is appointed by the Minister of Justice. The current Qadi was appointed in June 1999. His predecessor was named Minister of State for Charitable and Religious Affairs under the Ministry of Justice. This position was created in May 1999, when newly elected President Ismail Omar Guelleh formed his Cabinet and declared that Islam would be a central tenet of his government.

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

Religious Demography

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

Religion is not taught in public schools.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There is no legal prohibition against proselytizing; however, proselytizing is discouraged. There were a few occasions when members of the Baha'i Faith were questioned by the police regarding possible proselytizing activities; however, there were no arrests.

Foreign clergy and missionaries are permitted to perform charitable works and to sell religious books. A small number of foreign Christian missionary groups operate in the country. These 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.

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 for non-Muslim foreigners. Muslims are required to marry in a religious ceremony, and non-Muslim men may 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. Although groups of Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians were arrested and detained for short periods of time in the past, there were no reports of such detentions during the period covered by this report. The past 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.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens 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. The Government established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in May 2000. A group of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Missionaries of Charity was expected to arrive soon thereafter to work among the poor, but had not arrived as of June 30, 2000.

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

U.S. Embassy officials engage in a regular humans rights dialog with government officials, which includes religious freedom issues.

Embassy representatives meet with leaders and members of religious communities and with U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) with a missionary component. In addition, during the period covered by this report an embassy representative participated in a conference for Muslim religious leaders organized by the Qadi.

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