Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:17 GMT

July-December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report - Benin

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 13 September 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, July-December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report - Benin, 13 September 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e734cb39.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 13, 2011

[Covers six-month period from 1 July 2010 to 31 December 2010 (USDOS is shifting to a calendar year reporting period)]

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections.

The government generally respected religious freedom in law and in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 43,483 square miles and a population of 8.8 million. According to the 2002 census, the population is 27 percent Roman Catholic, 24 percent Muslim, 17 percent practitioners of Voodoo (Vodun), 6 percent adherents of other traditional indigenous beliefs, and 5 percent Celestial Christians. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent each include Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, Bahais, Baptists, Assemblies of God, and Pentecostals. Seven percent claim no religious affiliation.

Many individuals who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim also practice Voodoo or other traditional local religions.

Nearly all Muslims are Sunni. The few Shia Muslims are primarily Middle Eastern foreign residents.

There are Christians, Muslims, and adherents of traditional local religious groups throughout the country; however, Muslims are represented most heavily in the North and Southeast, while Christians are prevalent in the South, particularly in Cotonou.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Please refer to Appendix C in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the status of the government's acceptance of international legal standards http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/appendices/index.htm.

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections.

The constitutional court determines the legal guidelines that govern religious practice. In recent years the court determined that it was illegal to block access of any group to its religious premises, and discussion and debate regarding religious belief was a protected right of free speech.

The Ministry of National Defense was permitted to intervene in conflicts between religious groups to ensure public order and social peace, provided that the intervention complied with the principle of state neutrality in the management of religious affairs.

Persons who wished to form a religious group must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Registration requirements were the same for all religious groups, and there were no reports that any group was refused permission to register or subjected to unusual delays or obstacles in the registration process. Religious groups were exempted from taxation.

Government officials accorded respect to prominent leaders of all religious groups by attending their induction ceremonies, funerals, and other religious celebrations. Police forces provided security for any religious event upon request.

In accordance with the constitution, which provides for a secular state, public schools were not authorized to provide religious instruction; however, religious groups were permitted to establish private schools.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Assumption Day, Eid al-Fitr, All Saints' Day, Tabaski, Christmas, and Traditional Religions Day. State-operated television featured coverage of the celebration of religious holidays and special events in the lives of prominent religious leaders, including ordination anniversaries and funerals. Ecumenical Day was celebrated in the historic town of Ouidah every first Wednesday of May and traditionally included a large celebration of interreligious cooperation. Religious leaders made an effort to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims and preached a message of tolerance.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of abuses, including religious prisoners or detainees in the country

Section III. Status of Societal Actions Affecting Enjoyment of Religious Freedom

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

Due to the diversity of religious affiliations within families and communities, respect for religious differences was widespread at all levels of society and in all regions; however, there were occasional conflicts that required the intervention of local security forces between Voodoo practitioners and Christians over Voodoo initiation practices.

Interfaith dialogue occurred regularly. The country has a Framework for Interfaith Dialogue, "Cadre de Concertation des Confessions Religieuses du Benin." This institution was created in 2007 to advance interfaith dialogue and social peace.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. On August 30, 2010, Embassy Cotonou hosted an iftar (evening meal during Ramadan) for prominent local Imams and Islamic scholars. The ambassador highlighted the importance of tolerance and interfaith dialogue in country and affirmed the positive dialogue that he has encountered here.

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