Mauritius

The volcanic, island nation of Mauritius is a former British Colony, obtaining independence in 1968. In 1991, when the country became a Republic, a President designated by the National Assembly replaced the Governor General, who had previously represented the Queen of the United Kingdom, the former Head of State. Mauritius is a democratic parliamentary republic, with a Prime Minister as the head of the executive.

 
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Although this is not expressly provided in the Constitution, Mauritius possesses many of the features of a secular State. On the Republican model, the people are sovereign and elect representatives to sit in the National Assembly.

Freedom of conscience is expressly protected under section 11 of the Constitution, which provides for freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Chapter 2 of the Constitution contains a Bill of Rights securing to the people of Mauritius fundamental rights and freedom. It is largely modelled on the European Convention of Human Rights.

“Best Loser” system

However, there is one mechanism within the electoral process, known as the “Best Loser System”, which raises serious issues as to whether Mauritius should be regarded as a secular State. The Constitution provides that, for the purpose of appointing 8 additional or “corrective” members of the National Assembly, the population shall be considered as being divided into four communities: Hindu, Muslim, Chinese and General Population. All candidates to a general election must declare to which community they belong, failing which their candidacy is automatically invalidated. After the democratic results of a general election are declared, the Electoral Supervisory Commission analyses the results to determine which community is “underrepresented” and appoints up to eight “corrective” members of Parliament amongst the most successful unreturned candidates belonging to the “appropriate community”.

While it may be intended to ‘balance’ representation among ‘communities’, compelling candidates to categorize themselves within one of the four communities provided under the constitution is an unusual measure and stands against the general understanding of freedom of religion or belief under which no individual should be compelled to declare their religion or belief.

A constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court and a complaint before the United Nations Human Rights Committee have placed successive Governments under much pressure. For the 2015 general elections temporary constitutional provisions were adopted to exempt candidates from the obligation to declare their “community”. An electoral reform bill to introduce a dose of proportional representation and abolish the Best Loser System was due to be tabled as of late 2018.

Recognising and funding religion

Religious organizations, dioceses and churches are established under different legislative enactments for Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus, and Muslims. Religious organizations receive an annual lump sum payment from the finance ministry based on the number of their adherents as determined by the census. The finance ministry grants these new groups tax-exempt privileges. There is no equivalent benefit for non-religious groups.

Religious organizations regularly intervene in the political process in various ways and may go as far as calling their members to support a political party during elections. Such religious organizations also act as lobbies to defend vested interests and obtain from politicians various advantages including the appointment of their members to different public offices. Politicians overtly woo religious organizations for endorsement.

Education and children’s rights

The Constitution provides for the right of any religious denomination or association to establish and maintain schools at its own expense. The Education Act allows the government to provide grants in aid to non-government schools including schools established by religious bodies (known as “confessional schools”). Confessional schools are heavily subsidized by the Government in particular the Catholic schools. The Education Act provides that all Government schools and all schools in receipt of a regular grant in aid from Government funds shall be open to pupils of any race or religion.

However, in practice, arrangements exist between the Government and confessional schools for the latter to retain a residual power in the recruitment of teachers and students in line with their religious vocation.

Section 11 of the Constitution provides that no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion that he does not profess.

Family, community and society

Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious population of 1.3 million. Mauritius had no indigenous population. Africans were brought by the French settlers as slaves in the 18th century, following the abolition of slavery by the British, Indians were brought as indentured labourers, and in the early 1900s Chinese came as traders. The island is home to a number of ethno-religious groups: Hindus (52%); Muslims (16%); Creoles of African ancestry (27%); Chinese (3%); and Franco Mauritians of European ancestry (2%). Most individuals from the last three groups are Christians.

Abortion

Before 2012 abortion was prohibited in all cases. However, despite strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, the criminal code was amended to authorize abortion where the continued pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the pregnant woman, including mental health considerations, or where there is a substantial risk that the continued pregnancy will result in a severe malformation, or severe physical or mental abnormality, of the foetus, or if the pregnancy has not exceeded its fourteenth week and results from a case of rape, sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 16 or sexual intercourse with a specified person which has been reported to the police.

Sexual orientation

Section 250 of the Criminal Code provides as follows:-

“250. Sodomy and bestiality
(1) Any person who is guilty of the crime of sodomy or bestiality shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding 5 years.”

Previous attempts by the Government to abolish the prohibition of “sodomy” between consenting adults have been fiercely opposed by the Catholic Church and Muslim religious organizations. This is despite the fact that the local Labour laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom. Several private daily and weekly publications criticize both the ruling and opposition parties, but the state-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television services generally reflect government viewpoints.

The advocacy of humanist values is not expected to give rise to any serious threat although the vast majority of the population expresses adhesion to religious beliefs, values and norms.

Freedoms of assembly and association are generally honored. However, in June 2018 the Pride parade was prevented from taking place by a group of Muslim protestors. The LGBT parade had police permission and was obstructed by the hostile protesters, but police were criticized for failing to take any action against those who had participated in the illegal counter-demonstration.

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