Congo, Republic of

International Religious Freedom Report 2005
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

While the generally amicable relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom, the close link between certain self-proclaimed messianic groups and opposition political movements was a source of tension during the civil war period from 1997 to 2001. In 2003, the Government and the last armed opposition group, the Ninjas, signed a peace accord that greatly reduced these tensions.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 132,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 3 million. Approximately half of its citizens are Christian; of these, approximately 90 percent are Roman Catholic. Other denominations include Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovah's Witnesses. There is a growing Muslim community in the country, currently estimated at 2 percent of the population. Most work in the urban centers and are immigrants from West Africa and Lebanon, with some also from North Africa. The West African immigrants arrive mostly from Mali, Benin, Togo, Mauritania, and Senegal. The Lebanese are primarily Sunni Muslims. There is also a large Chadian Muslim population.

The remainder of the population is made up of practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, those who belong to various messianic groups, and those who practice no religion at all. A small minority of the Christian community practices Kimbanguism, a syncretistic movement that originated in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. While retaining many elements of Christianity, Kimbanguism also recognizes its founder (Simon Kimbangu) as a prophet and incorporates African traditional beliefs, such as ancestor worship.

Mystical or messianic practices (particularly among the ethnic Lari population in the Pool region) have been associated with opposition political movements, including some elements of the armed insurrection in the southern part of the country from 1998 to 2001. While the association persists, its influence has diminished considerably since 2003.

Several Western Christian missionary groups are active in the country, including members of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Salvation Army, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and several Catholic religious orders.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and specifically forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no official state religion.

All organizations, including religious organizations, businesses, unions, and charitable or nonprofit societies, are required to register with and be approved by the Government. There were no reports of discrimination against religious groups in this process, although all admit that it is time-consuming and lengthy. Penalties for failure to register include fines and potential confiscation of goods, invalidation of contracts, and deportation for foreigners, but no criminal penalties are applicable.

The Government recognizes the Christian holy days of Christmas, Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday as national holidays. Muslim holy days are not nationally observed; however, they are respected. For example, employers grant leave for those who wish to observe religious holy days not on the national calendar.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

In 2003, the Government and the Ninja rebel militia group, led by self-proclaimed prophet Frederic Bistangou (also known as Pasteur Ntumi), signed a peace accord. Subsequently, there have been no reports of abuse or desecration of churches as alleged in previous years.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Although uncommon, interreligious marriage is generally socially acceptable. Children of majority and minority religions usually sit side‑by‑side in school. In practice, religion is generally kept separate from public education. Religious tolerance is greater in urban areas than in the rural areas. In some forest communities where there are pygmy populations, there is some discrimination against them in education and employment as well as intolerance for their social practices, including at times their animist religious practices.

All organized religious groups are represented in a joint ecumenical council, which meets yearly during February.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. These discussions include highlighting the importance of religious freedom with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidency, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the National Assembly. The U.S. Embassy also has implemented programs with key civil society groups that address these issues. The Embassy supports four human rights organizations whose goals consist of strengthening recognition of religious diversity, including animism. U.S. Government funding has also assisted the local branch of CARITAS, which is affiliated with Catholic Relief Services and local church organizations that implement grassroots and micro-enterprise activities.