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Statement on Closure of Faith Based Organizations in Rwanda

Note on Regulating Faith Based Organizations in Rwanda

28.07.2018

Introduction

Since February 2018, a number of places of worship in Rwanda have been closed. However many of them have since reopened after taking corrective measures

The closures do not infringe on freedom to worship but rather address the alarming proliferation of places of worship in dilapidated and unhygienic conditions, as well as troubling behaviour of unscrupulous individuals masquerading as religious leaders. The latter have, among other abuses, defrauded innocent followers, broadcast insults against women and other religions, and forced followers to fast to the point of death from starvation.

Following an extensive consultative process, a meeting held on 13 February 2018 involving the Rwanda Governance Board, Ministry of Local Government, Kigali City officials, and church leaders, resolved to urgently address the increase in places of worship that failed to meet minimum building and hygiene standards, posed a serious threat to the safety of occupants, or had become a public nuisance.

Historical Background

The right to religion is guaranteed by Article 37 of the Rwandan Constitution of 2003 amended in 2015, and respected in practice. This is underscored by the rapid growth in number of religious organisations in recent years.

In 1962, Rwanda had less than ten recognised religious denominations, and from 1962 to 1994, these grew to around fifty. Between then and 2012, the number increased to 350. Since 2012, when the new law regulating faith-based organisations was enacted, and 2017, officially registered religious organisations grew to over 1,000.

This means that in the last five years, three times more faith-based organisations were registered than in the last fifty years, reflecting the historic expansion of freedom of religion in Rwanda.

What was done?

In the City of Kigali alone, close to 2,000 prayer houses were in operation. Kigali consists of 1,176 villages (imidugudu), the smallest entity of Rwanda’s administrative structure, which on average comprises 80 to 150 households.

In some parts of Kigali, there are ten churches or prayer houses in a single village. The number itself is not a problem but in some buildings three or four different denominations would hold prayer services at the same time, resulting in unbearable levels of noise and an unsafe environment for occupants.

Although the buildings and other worship spaces deemed inappropriate or hazardous were closed, the affected religious organisations remained active, and their right to religion guaranteed.

For example, the Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda (ADEPR) had over 3,300 prayer houses countrywide, of which 1,381 were found to be below standard and closed down. After six weeks, 300 (more than 20%) of those took corrective measures to meet minimum standards and were allowed to re-open.

Similarly, 15% of mosques inspected failed to meet minimum standards and were closed. However Islamic worship continues across Rwanda in mosques that meet the standards.

Across Rwanda, churches and mosques that were closed have reopened after fulfilling the requirements. Others are still in the process of fulfilling requirements.

In Rusizi District in Southern Province, of 71 Catholic churches inspected, 26 were deemed unsafe and substandard. While these are being upgraded, worship continues uninterrupted in the remaining 45 churches that meet the standards.

In Rutsiro District in Western Province, 50 churches of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination were closed. Half of them were upgraded within six weeks and reopened.

In Gasabo District in Kigali, 23 churches have reopened.

In light of these developments, the 2012 law governing faith-based organisations has been passed by the Parliament and is currently awaiting promulgation.  The new law seeks to ensure freedom of religion is fully exercised and enjoyed by all citizens, in a safe and dignified manner.

Reactions of Some Religious Leaders

Many religious leaders have supported the process to improve standards.

The Rt. Rev. John Rucyahana, former Anglican Bishop of Shyira, said that churches ought to serve as positive examples to society on the importance of obeying laws and meeting required standards. He pointed out that Rwandans ought to challenge religious leaders they find to be manipulative or operating below required standards.

“The work of the Lord is not inferior that it can be done in sub-standard places. It has to be safe for occupants.” (The New Times, 5 March 2018)

Pastor Jonas Matabaro, representative of Restoration Church in Musanze District, said the closure of non-compliant places of worship was a necessity since it prompted them to seek to fulfil the necessary
requirements.

“It has been a wake-up call for faith-based organisations to comply with the law. For instance, the church I run here in Musanze had no system to harvest rain water and it would cause damage while trickling down.” (Kigali Today, 13 March 2018)

Bishop Murekezi Masasu, representative of the Christian Churches Forum in Rubavu District, said the decision to close substandard place of worship was important and timely. “I believe that God is involved in the operation that aims at eradicating disorder and cleaning the churches. To be honest, as a religious leader, I also totally agree that some prayer houses were disgraceful, and deserved to be closed.” (Isange.com, 17 March 2018)

END

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