Assessing the Human Rights Implication of Calls for Regulation of Faith-Based Organisations
The critical role that religion plays in society is indisputable. However, along with the practice of religion has come controversial religious practices which have become a common feature in many societies across the globe, including those in Africa. Having religious leaders spray their followers with insecticide, lure them to eat grass and snakes, and have them drink petrol; are just the tip of the iceberg in as far as controversial religious practices are concerned. Not surprisingly, some states have adopted measures to respond to these practices, with others seriously considering drastic steps. In Rwanda, for example, over 8000 churches have thus far been shut down, with the government of Rwanda already in the process of enacting legislation to regulate the operation of faith-based organisations. In Botswana, the Enlightened Christian Gathering, operating under the leadership of renowned Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, was shut down in 2018, only for the decision to be appealed before the High Court of Botswana. South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) has not backed down on its proposals to have religious structures regulated. Amidst all these proposals, an issue that remains far from resolved is whether the said proposals would pass international human-rights law muster. This article resolves this issue in the negative. It effectively demonstrates that the current practice of the National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa is testament to the fact that existing legislation and structures can effectively deal with controversies pertaining to religious practices.
Keywords: controversial religious practices; human rights; religion; regulation; Africa