U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - Liberia

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register their articles of incorporation with the Government, along with a statement of the purpose of the organization. However, traditional indigenous religious groups generally need not and do not register. The registration is routine, and there have been no reports that the registration process is either burdensome or discriminatory in its administration.

Although Islam is gaining adherents, as much as 40 percent of the population practice either Christianity or elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religions. About 20 percent of the population practice Islam. The remaining 40 percent practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively. The Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal (AME), and AME Zion denominations, as well as several Pentecostal churches are represented in the Christian community. Some of the Pentecostal movements are independent, while others are affiliated with churches in the United States and elsewhere. There is also a small Baha'i community.

Christianity, traditional indigenous religions, and syncretistic religions combining elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religions are found throughout the country. Islam is prevalent only among members of the Mandingo ethnic group, who are concentrated in the northern and eastern counties, and among the Vai ethnic group in the northwest.

In early 1999, President Taylor dismissed all but one of his cabinet ministers after they failed to accompany him to a church service. Explaining this action, Taylor initially stated that anyone who did not know God could not serve in his Government. Subsequently, Taylor stated that religion is a private matter, but that Cabinet ministers are required to be present at public ceremonies that the President attends. A few weeks later, Taylor rescinded this action and reinstated the ministers at the urging of diverse individuals and organizations. Many informed observers interpreted Taylor's actions as a miscalculated attempt to find a generally acceptable pretext to reshuffle his Cabinet.

Although the law prohibits religious discrimination, Islamic leaders complained of discrimination against Muslims. Although there are some Muslims in senior government positions, many Muslims believe that they are bypassed for desirable jobs. Many Muslim business proprietors believe that the Taylor Government's decision to enforce an old statute prohibiting business on Sunday discriminates against them. Most Mandingos and hence most Muslims were allied with factions that opposed Taylor during the recent civil war and still belong to opposition parties.

Two FM radio stations, one operated by the Roman Catholic archdiocese, the other an evangelical station, broadcast Christian-oriented religious programming from Monrovia to the capital and the surrounding area. There were no Islamic-oriented radio stations in the country, and little radio broadcasting of any kind in the northern and eastern counties where the Islamic population is concentrated.

Apart from the Government's resumption of Sunday "blue law" enforcement and the President's firing of much of his Cabinet for nonattendance at a religious service, there was little 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.

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

Some tensions exist between the major religious communities. The law prohibits religious discrimination; however, Islamic leaders complained of societal discrimination against Muslims. The private sector in urban areas, particularly in the capital, gives preference to Christianity in civic ceremonies and observances, and discrimination against followers of other organized religions spills over into areas of individual opportunity and employment. There is an interfaith council that brings together leaders of the Christian and Islamic faiths.

Between April and June 1998, unknown persons set fire to six mosques in Lofa, Bong, and Nimba counties; these mosque burnings apparently were part of a conflict between the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group and other non-Muslim ethnic groups. President Taylor criticized the arson attacks, blamed them on religious hatred, and promised to investigate. Although no arrests were made, there were no further arson incidents during the period covered by this report.

In December 1998, there was a small number of violent clashes between Muslim and Christian youth groups in Monrovia during a Christian evangelical crusade.

Ritual killings, in which body parts used in traditional indigenous rituals are removed from the victim, continued to occur. The number of such killings is difficult to ascertain, since police often describe deaths as accidents even when body parts have been removed. Deaths that appear to be natural or accidental sometimes are rumored to be the work of ritual killers. Little reliable information appears to be readily available about traditions associated with ritual killings. It is believed that practitioners of traditional indigenous religions among the Grebo and Krahn ethnic groups concentrated in the southeastern counties most commonly engage in ritual killings. The victims are usually members of the religious group performing the ritual. Body parts of a member whom the group believes to be powerful are believed to be the most effective ritually. Body parts most frequently removed include the heart, liver and genitals. The rituals involved have been reported in some cases to entail eating body parts, and the underlying religious beliefs may be related to incidents during the civil war in which faction leaders sometimes ate (and in which one faction leader had himself filmed eating) body parts of former leaders of rival factions. Removal of body parts for use in traditional rituals is believed to be the motive for ritual killings, rather than an abuse incidental to killings committed for other motives. Ritual murders for the purpose of obtaining body parts were traditionally committed by religious group members called "heart men," but since the civil war, common criminals inured to killing may also sell body parts.

In July 1998, the Chairman of the Election Commission issued a warning that candidates for public office who engaged in ritual killing in the belief that it would advance their electability would be disqualified and would face criminal prosecution for murder. In August 1999, the Government sent a high-level delegation of the National Police to the southeastern counties to investigate reports of ritual killings.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy monitors developments affecting religious freedom, maintains contact with clergy and other leaders of major religious communities, and discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Embassy officers have met on various occasions with the Roman Catholic Archbishop, the United Methodist Bishop, the AME Bishop, the AME Zion Bishop, and other religious leaders during the period covered by this report.

The Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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