Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 15, 2022 / 09:04 am (CNA).
As President Joe Biden welcomes leaders from over 40 African nations this week, religious freedom advocates are calling for the U.S. government to recognize the rising persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
The U.S. Africa Leaders Summit will meet through Thursday, Dec. 15, in the nation’s capital. Among other African leaders, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been welcomed by Biden despite recent controversy surrounding Nigeria’s handling of religious violence.
Persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, including minority sects within Islam, is on the rise in Nigeria, according to religious and human rights organizations, including Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Yet, for the second year in a row, the United States Department of State has excluded Nigeria from its religious freedom violations list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC). According to Sean Nelson of ADF, the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.”
Many, including ADF and the USCIRF, were shocked and outraged by the State Department’s decision to leave Nigeria off the list. “Removing Nigeria from the CPC list has led to the emboldening of Islamic terrorists, radical militants, and other extremists who kill, torture, and abduct Christians, as well as Muslims who reject extremism,” an ADF petition to include Nigeria on the CPC list stated.
In a Dec. 2 statement, USCIRF announced it is “tremendously disappointed that the Secretary of State did not implement our recommendations and recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations that both USCIRF and the State Department have documented in (Nigeria).” Making its position very clear, USCIRF stated that “there is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria.”
According to a September policy update on violence in Nigeria by USCIRF, the violence perpetuated by “militant Islamist groups” in Nigeria has resulted in “devastating humanitarian and religious freedom consequences.”
Previously reported on by CNA, Reuters exposed an ongoing rape as a weapon of war campaign by Islamist jihadists against Nigerian women in minority religious communities as well as a massive, forced abortion program by the Nigerian military.
This year’s “Pentecost massacre,” in which dozens of Catholics attending Mass in Owo were killed, is just one example of the mounting religious violence being perpetuated by Islamist extremists, according to ADF. While jihadist groups such as the Islamic State West Africa Province, an ISIS caliphate, and Boko Haram spread a reign of terror on the Nigerian population, mob violence and acts of hate against Christians are largely left unchecked by the Nigerian government.
According to Nelson, “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian.” In a statement to CNA, Nelson said that “we know that thousands of Christians in Nigeria are slaughtered every year for their faith, and people are silenced, imprisoned, and face deadly mob violence based on blasphemy accusations.”
The U.S. Africa Leaders Summit stated priorities include fostering economic opportunity, promoting security, democracy, and education, and responding to the climate crisis.
“Human rights concerns should not be ignored or sidelined during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit,” Nelson told CNA, adding: “The Nigerian government has ignored these concerns, and the Biden administration has turned a blind eye as well. If the U.S. won’t stand up to protect religious freedom in the face of undeniable persecution, who will?”
“The International Religious Freedom Act is very clear that Country of Particular Concern designations should solely be based on the religious freedom conditions in a country … The State Department has not provided any real explanation of its decision to leave Nigeria off the Country of Particular Concern list for the past two years to Congress or others,” Nelson said to CNA, adding: “Whenever such egregious, systematic, and ongoing violations of religious freedom are occurring in a country — and Nigeria undeniably meets those requirements — the U.S. should speak out by placing them on the Country of Particular Concern list.”
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