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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Mauritius

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

Tensions between the Hindu majority and Christian Creole and Muslim minorities persist; however, members of each group worshipped without hindrance.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Religious organizations and faiths that were present in the country prior to independence, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Presbyterian Church, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Hindus, and Muslims, are recognized in a parliamentary decree. These groups also receive a lump-sum payment every year from the Ministry of Finance based upon the number of adherents, as determined by a 10-year census. Newer religious organizations (which must have a minimum of 7 members) are registered by the Registrar of Associations and are recognized as a legal entity with tax-free privileges. No groups are known to have been refused registration.

Religious Demography

In the 1990 census, out of a population of more than 1 million persons, approximately 50 percent claimed to be Hindu, 32 percent Christian, 16 percent Muslim, and less than 1 percent Baha'i, Jewish, or Buddhist. Also less than 1 percent claimed to be atheists or agnostics. There are no figures for those who actually practice their faith, but there are estimates that the figure is around 60 percent for all religious groups.

Approximately 85 percent of Christians are Roman Catholic. The remaining 15 percent are members of the following churches: Adventist, Assembly of God, Christian Tamil, Church of England, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sunni Muslims account for over 90 percent of the Muslims; however, there are some Shi'a Muslims.

Many Buddhists are also practicing Catholics, since many citizens of Chinese ancestry have sent, and continue to send, their children to the Loreto Convent primary schools located in the major towns.

The north tends to be more Hindu and the south is more Catholic. There are also large populations of Hindus and Catholics in the main cities from the capital of Port Louis to the central cities of Quatre Bornes and Curepipe, and most Muslims and Christian churches are concentrated in these areas. The offshore island of Rodrigues, with a population of 35,200, is predominantly Catholic.

While the Government is secular in both name and practice, for political reasons it has in the past favored the Hindu majority of the population with greater access to government patronage.

Foreign missionary groups are allowed to operate on a case-by-case basis. There are no government regulations detailing the conditions of their presence or limiting their proselytizing activities. Groups must obtain both a visa and a work permit for each missionary. Foreign missionaries sometimes are prohibited from residing in the contry beyond 5 years (which would permit them to seek Mauritian citizenship), but religious organizations are permitted to send new missionaries to replace them.

While some Creole political groups alleged that Christian Creoles received unjust treatment from the police, there was no evidence that this was based in particular on religious differences. Such incidents likely were largely a result of the Creoles' position as the country's underclass, as well as ethnic differences, since the police force is predominantly Indo-Mauritian.

In the wake of riots that broke out in February 1999 partly as a result of ethnic tensions, religious leaders called on the President to form an interreligious council. The President formed the Committee for the Promotion of National Unity, which consists of 20 members from a wide cross-section of the public and private sectors. The committee has sponsored a variety of activities to promote goodwill between ethnic groups.

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.

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 minor U.S. citizens who had been forced to convert their religion to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Tensions between the Hindu majority and Christian Creole and Muslim minorities persist; however, no violent confrontations resulted during the period covered by this report.

Mauritius is a small island nation, and ethnic groups, known as "communities," are quite tightly knit. Intermarriage is relatively rare. An individual's name easily identifies his or her ethnic and religious background. There is a strong correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity. Citizens of Indian ethnicity are usually Hindus or Muslims. Citizens of Chinese ancestry usually practice both Buddhism and Catholicism. Creoles and citizens of European-descent are usually Catholic. However, there is a growing number of Hindu converts to evangelical Christian churches, a fact that is of growing concern to Hindu organizations.

In the wake of violent confrontations in early 1999 that were partially the result of ethnic tensions, the Mauritian Council of Social Service, which serves as an umbrella group for nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) in the country, created a conflict resolution working group to address ethnic tensions. A citizen based abroad established the Mauritius Peace Initiative to facilitate contact between domestic community leaders and international conflict resolution experts.

Some minorities, usually Creoles and Muslims, allege that a glass ceiling exists within the upper echelons of the civil service that prevents them from reaching the highest levels.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Support for some conflict resolution activities was provided under the U.S. Democracy and Human Rights Fund.

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