US designates Nigeria ‘country of particular concern’ over religious freedom violations

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The United States Department of State has designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” This comes after years of terrorism carried out by violent Islamic extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, that has targeted Christians in the Northern part of the country.

“Persecution against religious believers around the world must end. For too long, Nigeria has violated the fundamental rights of people of faith by allowing impunity for egregious crimes committed against religious minorities, and in particular against Christians. The United States’ designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern sends a message that atrocities committed based on religious motives or identity will not be tolerated. This designation is a wake-up call to Nigeria to protect everyone’s inalienable right to religious freedom,” said Kelsey Zorzi, who serves as Director of Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.

Nigerian government must act to protect religious minorities

The designation of Nigeria as a CPC is a win for advocates of religious freedom even as the situation in the country grows more troubling.

Samuel Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, stated in an on-the-record briefing at the release of the designation: “[A] major concern for us is the lack of adequate government response in Nigeria. You’ve got expanded terrorist activities, you’ve got a lot of it associated around religious affiliations, and the government’s response has been minimal to not happening at all. . . . [T]he government really needs to act. We stand ready to work with them.”

Gayle Manchin, the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said: “Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom.”

Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

Thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria over the last few years. Millions of people have fled the devastating violence and have become internally displaced. As a result of the violence, 13,000 churches have been closed or destroyed altogether. Many victims have also been kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted or married, or sold into slavery. One of the main perpetrators in attacks against Christians and other religious minorities are members of Boko Haram, a terrorist group that emerged in 2003. Christians also face attacks from other militants throughout the North and Middle Belt region, as well as discrimination more generally in these areas.

There is a growing international awareness of the serious and worsening human rights situation in Nigeria. On 11 December, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court released a statement announcing her conclusion of preliminary examinations on Nigeria, which began in 2010. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the statutory criteria for opening an investigation had been met, and that there was a reasonable basis to believe that members of Boko Haram and its splinter groups had committed acts constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes, including persecution on religious grounds and intentionally directing attacks against places of worship.

Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said: “The recent statement from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court reminds us that Nigeria remains a country of grave concern for people of faith. Christians in particular face widespread and severe persecution. No one should turn a blind eye to the plight Christians and other religious minority groups are facing today in Nigeria.”
Courtesy: ADF International.