Guerrilla groups are the main threat to religious freedom in Colombia, according to a report from the U.S. State Department released Wednesday.
The International Religious Freedom Report 2010 reports on the state of freedom of religion in 200 countries and regions around the world. The report is prepared by “gathering information from a variety of sources, including government and religious officials, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, religious groups, and academics.”
According to the report Colombia “generally respects religious freedom” but terrorist organizations have “killed, kidnapped, and extorted religious leaders and practitioners, inhibiting free religious expression.”
The report states that Colombia “extends two different kinds of recognition to religious organizations: recognition as a legal entity (personeria juridica) and special public recognition as a religious entity.” The report states that the government readily grants legal recognition to religious groups but it is more difficult for a religious organization to receive special public recognition.
Since 2008 the government has granted 719 applications for special public recognition, 90% of which were for evangelical churches, and received 827 applications that failed to meet the constitutional requirements. In many cases the failed applicants were granted affiliate status under an existing institution.
“Although the 1991 constitution mandates separation of church and state, the Catholic Church retains a de facto privileged status,” states the report. It continues, “Muslim and Protestant leaders claimed difficulties in acquiring military chaplain positions and gaining access to prisoners.”
The report states that guerrilla groups are the primary source of religious oppression in Colombia. “Illegal armed groups, especially the FARC, threatened or attacked religious officials for opposing the forced recruitment of minors, promoting human rights, assisting internally displaced persons, and discouraging coca cultivation,” it states.
Although guerrilla groups allegedly oppress religious freedom the report clarifies that “terrorist organizations generally targeted religious leaders and practitioners for political rather than religious reasons.”
The report states that there are a number of faith-based NGOs in Colombia that promote “human rights, social and economic development, and a [negotiate] settlement to the internal armed conflict.” The report claims that “the most influential of these organizations were either affiliated with the Catholic Church or founded by church officials. The Catholic Church was the only institutional presence in many rural areas and its Social Pastoral Agency conducted important social work.”