U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2006 - Mauritius

International Religious Freedom Report 2006

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, September 15, 2006. Covers the period from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected 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.

Occasional tensions between the Hindu majority and Christian and Muslim minorities persisted; however, members of each group worshipped without hindrance.

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 718 square miles, and its population was approximately 1.2 million. In the 2000 census, an estimated 50 percent of the population claimed to be Hindu, 32 percent Christian, and 17 percent Muslim. Less than 1 percent claimed to be atheist, agnostic, or of another faith. There were no official figures for those who actively practiced their faith, but there were estimates that the figure was approximately 60 percent for all religious groups.

Approximately 73 percent of Christians were Roman Catholic. The remaining 27 percent were members of the following subgroups: Seventh-day 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 (Mormons). Sunnis accounted for more than 90 percent of Muslims; there were some Shi'a Muslims. Many Buddhists were also practicing Catholics, and many citizens of Chinese ancestry sent their children to the Loreto Convent primary schools in the major towns, which were managed by the Catholic diocese.

The north was more Hindu, and the south was more Catholic. There also were large populations of Muslims and Catholics in the main cities of Port Louis, Quatre Bornes, and Curepipe. Most mosques and churches were concentrated in these areas. The offshore island of Rodrigues, with a population of approximately 36,000, was 92 percent Catholic.

The country is a small island nation, and its ethnic groups, known as "communal groups," are tightly knit. Intermarriage was not common, although the most recent census indicated that it was increasing. An individual's name usually identified his or her ethnic and religious background. There was a strong correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity. Citizens of Indian ethnicity usually were Hindus or Muslims. Those of Chinese ancestry generally practiced both Buddhism and Catholicism. Creoles and citizens of European descent usually were Catholic.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Baptist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, operated in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion.

Religious organizations that were present prior to independence, such as the 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 an annual lump-sum payment from the Ministry of Finance based upon the number of adherents as determined by the census. Newer religious organizations (which must have a minimum of seven members) were registered by the Registrar of Associations and were recognized as legal entities with tax-exempt privileges. The Government was not known to have refused registration to any group.

Foreign missionary groups were allowed to operate on a case-by-case basis. Although there are no government regulations restricting their presence or limiting their proselytizing activities, groups must obtain both a resident permit and a work permit for each missionary. The prime minister's office is the final authority on issuance of these required documents to missionaries. While there are no limits on the ability of missionaries to operate in the country, there are limits on the number of missionaries permitted to obtain the requisite visas and work permits. During the reporting period, the Government refused to grant work and residency permits to two Mormon missionaries. However, at least one other Mormon missionary received a work and residency permit.

National holidays are representative of the country's multireligious, multiethnic population. Hindu (Maha Shivratree, Ganesh Chathurthi, and Divvali), Tamil (Thaipoosam Cavadee, and Ougadi), Christian (Christmas and All Saints' Day), and Muslim (Eid al-Fitr) holy days are national holidays.

The Ministry of Arts and Culture is responsible for promoting cultural interaction among different cultural components within the country and sponsored daylong events aimed at fostering cultural programs that included religious components. For the third consecutive year, the Ministry held daylong activities for Divali and Eid al-Fitr. The ministry also held a daylong celebration of Christmas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

Due to the predominance of Hindu citizens in the upper echelons of the civil service, some minorities, usually Creoles and Muslims, alleged that they were prevented from reaching the highest levels of government. Despite this sentiment, a member of the Franco-Mauritian minority, Paul Raymond Berenger, became prime minister through a prearranged agreement between the parties of the governing coalition in 2003, making him the first Christian prime minister of the country. Prime Minister Ramgoolam's first deputy prime minister was Muslim, the highest elected office ever held by a Muslim in the country.

While some Creole political groups alleged that Christian Creoles received unjust treatment from the police, there was no evidence that this was based on religious differences. Observers believed that such incidents likely were a result largely of ethnic differences, since the police force was predominantly Indo-Mauritian and the fact that Creoles tended to live in poorer areas, where crime was more prevalent.

Foreign missionaries sometimes were prohibited from residing in the country beyond five years (which would permit them to seek citizenship). Religious organizations were permitted to send new missionaries to replace them; however, groups sometimes encountered bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining work permits and residence visas for replacements. This occasionally prevented such organizations from replacing departing missionaries in a timely fashion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

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.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that religious beliefs should not be taken into account when pupils were admitted to publicly funded Catholic schools. As a result, the Catholic diocese, which administers the schools, no longer had a seat allocation policy giving preference to Catholic students.

The Council of Religions of Mauritius, consisting of religious leaders from each of the major religions, met several times during the period covered by this report to discuss interreligious harmony. The committee set as its goal the development of a greater understanding between religious groups. Following the July 2005 elections, the members of the council signed a document urging political parties to refrain from using religious platforms. In January 2005 the Council of Religions held a meeting to establish a plan of action against HIV/AIDS.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Occasional tensions between the Hindu majority and Christian and Muslim minorities persisted; however, no violent confrontations occurred during the period covered by this report.

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. During the reporting period, the U.S. embassy conducted programs with several Muslim communities, including a visit from an American imam on nonviolence and Muslim life in America.


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