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Djibouti: Situation and treatment of Christians, including instances of discrimination or violence; effectiveness of recourse available in cases of mistreatment; problems that a Muslim can face if he or she converts to Christianity or marries a Christian (2000-2009)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board du Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 5 August 2009
Citation / Document Symbol DJI103229.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Djibouti: Situation and treatment of Christians, including instances of discrimination or violence; effectiveness of recourse available in cases of mistreatment; problems that a Muslim can face if he or she converts to Christianity or marries a Christian (2000-2009), 5 August 2009, DJI103229.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b20f03523.html [accessed 23 August 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.

Population

Estimates on the concentration of Christians in Djibouti vary from less than one percent (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 1) to six percent of the population (US 22 Apr. 2009). There are between 7,000 (ACN n.d.; Diocèse de Troyes 20 June 2006) and 8,000 Catholics (AllAfrica 9 Dec. 2005) in the country, of which some 300 are local Djiboutians, the rest being foreigners (ibid.; Diocèse de Troyes 20 June 2006). The Christian population largely consists of foreign-born or expatriate residents (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 1; Reformed Online n.d.). Djibouti has a Catholic bishop (AllAfrica 9 May 2008), 4 Catholic priests (ibid. 9 Dec. 2005) – all of whom are foreigners (Diocèse de Troyes 20 June 2006) – as well as about 40 Catholic missionaries (AllAfrica 9 Dec. 2005).

Legislation

While it names Islam as the sole state religion, the Constitution of the Republic of Djibouti provides for the equality of citizens of all faiths (Djibouti 15 Sept. 1992, Art. 1) as well as the freedom to practise any religion (ibid., Art. 11). The International Religious Freedom Report 2008 states that "[t]he law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors" (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 2; UN 3 Mar. 2009, Para. 13). According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008, "the government generally respected this right in practice" and "did not sanction those who ignored Islamic teachings or practiced other faiths" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 2.c). Citizens are deemed Muslim unless they declare another faith (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 1)

Djibouti's Family Code (Code de la Famille) prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men (Djibouti 31 Jan. 2002, Art. 23) unless the men convert to Islam (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 2). Marriage, divorce and inheritance are handled by the Family Court which applies the Family Code and has jurisdiction over Muslims, while non-Muslims must instead turn to civil courts (ibid.; ACN n.d.). According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008, while Muslim Djiboutians have the legal right to convert to another faith or marry outside of Islam, "converts may face negative societal, tribal, and familial attitudes towards their decision" (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 3; Open Doors USA n.d.) and often face pressure to revert to Islam (ibid.).

Government attitudes

The International Religious Freedom Report 2008 indicates that, in the period covered in its report, foreign clergy and missionaries conducted charitable work, sold religious books and provided education and health services without harassment (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 2). For instance, an article in AllAfrica mentions the École de la Nativité, a school run by Franciscan nuns and attended by middle-class children (AllAfrica 9 May 2008).

While Freedom House notes that public proselytizing is discouraged by the government (16 July 2009), others maintain that it is legally permitted and is not suppressed by the government, although it remains inhibited by social customs (Open Doors USA n.d.; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 2.c) and is thus uncommon (ibid. Sept. 2008, Sec. 3). All religious organizations must register with the state on a biennial basis, with a detailed account of their activities (ibid., Sec. 2; ACN n.d.).

Media sources report that in October 2007, a Catholic priest was detained and held in solitary confinement without being charged with any crime (ibid.; AllAfrica 14 Dec. 2007). There were allegations that the priest had participated in sexual misconduct involving children (ibid.; AED n.d.; AKI 14 Dec. 2007), but further information on this case could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Information on the recourse available to Christians in cases of mistreatment could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Societal attitudes

There were reports of increased societal hostility toward non-Muslims in recent years, although representatives of various Christian organizations described government officials as "tolerant and respectful" (US 19 Sept. 2008, Sec. 3). In addition, the Report indicates that Muslim Djiboutians have "considerable familiarity" with Roman Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who have almost a century-old presence in Djibouti (ibid.). In 20 June 2006 interview published by the Diocèse of Troyes, France, a local Director of Religious Pilgrimage (Diocèse de Troyes n.d.) states that in his opinion the Catholic Church is well accepted in Djibouti because of the helpfulness of its services and the respect it shows toward the main religion in the country (ibid. 20 June 2006).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Adnkronos (AKI). 14 December 2007. "Djibouti: Italian Priest Jailed on Child Sex Charges." (The Somaliland Times) [Accessed 30 July 2009]

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) [Königstein, Germany]. N.d. "Djibouti." Observatoire de l'église en détresse. [Accessed 29 July 2009]

AllAfrica. 9 May 2008. "Thousands Attend End of National Eucharistic Congress." (Comtex/Factiva)
_____. 14 December 2007. "Catholic Priest Still Held by Police Without Charge." (Comtex/Factiva)
_____. 9 December 2005. "Djibouti: Tiny Church in Need of More Missionaries." (Comtex/Factiva)

Diocèse de Troyes. 20 June 2006. "Djibouti, rencontre avec Joël Jollain." Au jour le jour: les actualités locales. [Accessed 29 July 2009]
_____. N.d. "Faire Église à Lourdes." Au jour le jour: les actualités locales. [Accessed 31 July 2009]

Djibouti. 31 January 2002. Loi no. 152/AN/02/4ème L portant Code de la Famille. (Yale University) [Accessed 30 July 2009]
_____. 15 September 1992. La Constitution de la République de Djibouti. [Accessed 30 July 2009]

Freedom House. 16 July 2009. "Djibouti." Freedom in the World 2009. [Accessed 4 Aug. 2009]

Open Doors USA. N.d. "Djibouti." [Accessed 29 July 2009]

Reformed Online [Emden, Germany]. N.d. "Église protestante évangélique de Djibouti." [Accessed 29 July 2009]

United Nations (UN). 3 March 2009. Human Rights Council. Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – Djibouti. (A/HRC/11/16) (UNHCR Refworld) [Accessed 30 July 2009]

United States (US). 22 April 2009. Department of State. "Djibouti." Background Notes. [Accessed 4 Aug. 2009]
_____. 25 February 2009. Department of State. "Djibouti." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed: 29 July 2009]
_____. 19 September 2008. Department of State. "Djibouti." International Religious Freedom Report 2008. [Accessed 29 July 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral source: Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains (LDDH) could not respond to requests for information within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential [London], Afrik.com, Amnesty International (AI), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA), Catholic News Service (CNS), Christian Science Monitor [Boston], Commission africaine des droits de l'homme et des peuples (ACHPR), Courrier international [Paris], The Economist [London], European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH), Groupe de recherche islamo-chrétien (GRIC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), International Christian Concern (ICC), International Crisis Group, Jeune Afrique [Paris], Le Journal chrétien, Le Journal officiel de la République de Djibouti [Djibouti], Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains (LDDH), Minority Rights Group International (MRG), Missionary International Service News Agency (MISNA), La Nation [Djibouti], Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Radiodiffusion télévision de Djibouti (RTD), Le Renouveau djiboutien [Djibouti], République de Djibouti, Société internationale missionnaire (SIM), U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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