BUJUMBURA June 27th (ABP) – The National Assembly met in plenary session, on Friday, June 24, 2022, at the Kigobe hemicycle, to analyze and pass the bill amending Law No. 35 of December 31, 2014 on the organic framework of religious denominations.
The Minister of the Interior, Community Development and Public Security, Mr. Gervais Ndirakobuca, who presented the reasons for that bill, recalled that in Burundi, religious denominations are governed by Law No. 35 of December 31 on the organic framework of the latter.
According to him, the law is very clear as to the procedure for the approval and operation of religious denominations. The latter are supposed to give their followers morality based on faith. He indicated that since the promulgation of that law, it was noted that some churches, instead of being landmarks of morality, rather become “fields of conflict and confrontation between the faithful”. According to him, the reasons for those quarrels are diverse, in particular the disagreement over the management of church property or that of the governing bodies. Some governing bodies do not want to leave their functions after the expiration of their term. He said that in addition to this context of trouble at the public order, caused by some churches, there is also the establishment of churches in places that are not in accordance with the law in force. He pointed out that there are churches working in dwelling houses, in places know as bars, in rented plots and often in makeshift straw or tarpaulin shelters. All this goes against the requirements of Article 31 point 14, which obliges religious denominations to “have places of worship that meet the standards of hygiene, social environment, health and safety, and which do not harm public order”.
According to Minister Ndirakobuca, some churches have not respected the relevant provisions relating to the conditions of their approval. It is noted that the establishment of certain churches did not follow the distance of at least 1 km, in rural areas, between two distinct religious denominations, and the distance of at least 500 m in urban areas.
He pointed out the main innovations introduced by the law in force. He cited the abolition of the regulatory and conciliation body for religious denominations provided for in article 6 paragraph 2 of the law in force. This body has caused more disorder in the management of religious denominations than it has provided a solution. There will also be introduction of regulations on the days, hours and places of worship while allowing the faithful to go about their daily activities for their own development.
According to that minister, there is an obligation for religious denominations seeking approval to have decent places of worship that meet hygienic conditions and are built of durable materials. In the law currently being revised, there will be provisional approval for a two-year period to ensure compliance with all the conditions required for the definitive approval of a religious denomination. There will also be the declaration of places of worship and the ban on setting up places of worship in secondary establishments or in reception halls. He also indicated that in the revised law, there will be the requirement of the declaration of newly created branches and the installation of a sign bearing the indications of the mother church in order to fight against the phenomenon of churches which open and operate without approval. This is an opportunity to point out that there will be a requirement for a high level of study up to the Bachelor’s Degree for the leaders of religious denominations and religious movements in order to guarantee better leadership capable of guiding the faithful according to their faith confessions and to promote their socio-economic development.
Minister Ndirakobuca mentioned that religious denominations that operate under the regulatory regime of foreign mother churches must conclude a framework agreement with the government of Burundi, which determines their mode of cooperation and operation in addition to the bylaws, like the Catholic Church. This would lead to the avoidance of internal conflict as is the case today in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There is also the requirement for the traceability of funds from foreign countries intended for the financing of religious denominations.
During questions, the MPs specified that article 58 of the law currently being revised, stipulates that celebrations and religious events in households as well as the use of megaphones are prohibited. They revealed that Christians can meet in a family to pray for fellowship, prayer units, or for the sick.
The minister replied that the purpose of that law is not to prevent people from crying out to God. Prohibited celebrations and activities are those that go against the law and do not respect the environment, the tranquility of the people and public order.
The MPs asked for the reasons which prompted the ministry in charge of the interior to review the level of study of the legal representatives of religious denominations and their deputies.
The Minister replied that by fixing the minimum level of study, they wanted to adapt to the evolution of the level of training of Burundians and try to have a high level of qualification in the representation. The MPs passed that bill, subject to certain recommendations.