UK Government accused of downplaying violence against Christians in Nigeria

Published 25 September 2020  |  
(Photo: HART)
Baroness Cox on a fact-finding mission to Nigeria with her humanitarian organisation HART.

The UK Government has been urged to do more to protect Christians in Nigeria who have come under repeated attacks.

The Government's response came under scrutiny from peers in the House of Lords on Monday, with Baroness Cox warning that it "cannot ignore the chilling signs of the potential genocide in Nigeria".

Baroness Cox is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which published a report in June warning of an "unfolding genocide" against Christians in Nigeria.

Asked about the Government's assessment of the report, foreign and Commonwealth minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said it was the UK Government's policy "not to unilaterally determine whether genocide has occurred, in line with the genocide convention", and that this was rather "a matter for competent courts and tribunals".

He said a formal government response was being prepared that "will emphasise our approach of supporting solutions that tackle the causes of conflict to reduce violence affecting Christian and, indeed, Muslim communities".

"The Government welcome the report and the detailed analysis of complex issues of intercommunal violence and terrorism in Nigeria," he said.

"We condemn all incidents of violence and call on the Nigerian Government to do more to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account."

Peers urged tougher action, however, with Lord Farmer accusing the Government of continuing "to downplay the scale of the suffering endured by Christians in central belt states".

He cited an official government report from 2019 which said that attacks by Fulani herders were "a consequence of population growth", and "land and water disputes".

Lord Farmer continued: "This does not reflect the reality on the ground, identified by local observers as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing."

He urged the UK Government to "revisit the characterisation of this violence to acknowledge the significance of the perpetrators' ferocious ideology".

Baroness Cox, who has met with survivors of attacks in Nigeria, made a similar call for action.

"Given the escalation, frequency, brutality and asymmetry of such attacks on Christian communities—and, indeed, Muslims—is it not time to give greater effect to our obligations as a signatory to the 1948 genocide convention and our duty to protect?" she said.

Responding to their concerns, Lord Ahmad said that the conflict in Nigeria was being "exploited by those divisive voices who erroneously use religion to divide people".

"We will continue to condemn all acts of violence, particularly those against Christians and other communities in Nigeria and, indeed, elsewhere," he added.

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