US President Joe Biden is facing demands from human rights groups to formally recognise the religious persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
Fifteen faith-based religious freedom groups have joined forces with 32 leading global human rights advocates in calling for the Biden administration to re-designate the African nation as a “Country of Particular Concern”.
An open letter signed by the coalition – which includes Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Cox – highlighted the ongoing violence, killing and displacement of Christians in Nigeria by armed Muslim groups.
“If America ignores what’s happening in Nigeria, it will only excuse leaders who choose to turn a blind eye to such travesties, in Nigeria and around the world,” the letter says.
“International pressure is one of the most significant weapons the world has to stop the slow-motion war unfolding in Nigeria,” it says.
“The ongoing violence, killing, and displacement against Christians and others have only increased,” it continues.
“In fact, during 2021, massacres happen almost nightly, while by day, young boys are killed in the fields … In addition to the rampant violence all too often directed toward religious communities and churches, blasphemy laws enforced by state-sanctioned Shari’a courts are utilised against humanists and others.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a CPC in December 2020 and religious freedom conditions have worsened since.
Nigeria was removed from the list of countries of concern in 2021, however, in a move criticised by the letter.
“In order for Nigeria to have been removed from the key list of Countries of Particular Concern, it ought to have demonstrated substantial progress in protecting religious communities from attacks and affirming the right of all people to practice their faith freely,” the letter reads.
“This did not happen, and the removal of Nigeria’s CPC designation is unjustified and sends the wrong message to governments around the world who engage in or tolerate egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Sean Nelson, legal counsel for global religious freedom for ADF International, one of the 15 organisations to sign the letter, said the refusal to recognise Nigeria as a CPC could signal the retreat of the US as a champion of religious liberty.
“No one should be persecuted for their faith,” he said.
“For too long, Christians in Nigeria have faced extreme persecution at the hands of radical militant groups and serious discrimination by the government – and the situation is only getting worse.
“Removing Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern raises grave concerns for the international religious freedom community.”
He continued: “The United States has been a global leader in the promotion of religious freedom for decades. What kind of message does Nigeria’s CPC removal send? We join dozens of other religious freedom advocates in urging the Biden Administration to take swift action in making sure the United States does not waiver in its commitment to protecting global human rights, and redesignates Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.”
Christians living in Nigeria face some of the worst acts of persecution in the world, according to ADF International.
For over a decade, terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State-West Africa Province have targeted Christians and other religious groups there. On average, about 17 Nigerian Christians are murdered each day because of their faith.
In recent years, the brutality of attacks from various militants has only increased, while discriminatory laws and practices, such as the use of blasphemy laws have been applied against Muslims, Christians, and humanists.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the State Department to annually designate countries that “engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” as “Countries of Particular Concern.”
These designations provide leverage for the US to impose sanctions and encourage countries to improve their religious freedom conditions.
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