Religious freedom groups criticise Biden administration for leaving Nigeria off violators list

Burial on Christmas Day, 2023, of Christians slain in NTV village, Plateau state, Nigeria. (Photo: Christian Daily News, Morning Star News)

Religious freedom advocacy groups are criticizing the Biden administration for leaving Nigeria off the U.S. State Department list of the world's worst violators of religious freedom despite constant attacks and violence impacting Christian communities.

The U.S. State Department released its annual list of Countries of Particular Concern Thursday, a label assigned to nations that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

Nigeria was absent from the list for the third year in a row, although the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram was listed under the category of "Entities of Particular Concern." In 2020, Nigeria was added to the CPC list by the Trump administration but was removed during the first year of the Biden administration.

ADF International's Global Counsel for Religious Freedom Sean Nelson denounced the omission of Nigeria from the CPC list, saying in a statement Friday that "More Christians are being killed in Nigeria for their faith than in all other countries combined."

"We are disappointed and deeply concerned that the Biden administration again has failed to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom," said Nelson. "The United States should increase pressure on Nigeria for the blatant violations of religious freedom occurring in the country."

"Since it is clear that the State Department will not take significant action over the terrible religious freedom conditions in Nigeria, it is vital that Congress makes its voice heard."

ADF International was one of several advocacy groups to sign on to a letter last month urging members of Congress to back a measure calling on the State Department to designate Nigeria a CPC and seeking the appointment of a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.

The letter elaborated on the violations of religious freedom engulfing the African nation, explicitly highlighting how "90 percent of all the Christians killed for their faith worldwide last year were killed in Nigeria."

The letter cited statistics documenting how 100 Catholic priests had been kidnapped since the start of 2022, and 20 of them were murdered. Additional data included in the letter noted the torching of 17,000 Christian churches in Nigeria since 2009, many of which were burned with congregants inside.

In addition to highlighting the crimes committed against Christians in Nigeria, the letter condemned the government's response to those crimes as indicative of "a problematic level of apathy" as it "routinely failed to investigate these attacks and prosecute those responsible."

The advocacy organizations cited the frequent enforcement of blasphemy laws against Christians as an example of government-sanctioned persecution.

"These laws have been accompanied by a routine grant of impunity for extrajudicial attacks against their perceived violators," the letter stated. "Last year, there was the unprosecuted mob killing of student Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu after she was accused of blasphemy and the unprosecuted serious death threats against the Sultan of Sokoto, Sokoto's Catholic bishop, and Rhoda Jatau, a Christian woman, all three of whom were targeted for expressing disapproval of Yakubu's murder."

Two weeks after the letter was entered into the Congressional Record and a week before the State Department released its list of CPCs, more than160 Christians were massacred in coordinated attacks that began on the Saturday before Christmas and lasted through the holiday. Hundreds of homes in predominantly Christian areas of Nigeria were burned as well.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also expressed outrage about Nigeria's absence from the CPC list despite the organization's 2023 Annual Report including Nigeria on its list of recommended CPCs.

In a statement published Thursday, USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick Davie called for a congressional hearing on "the failure of the State Department to follow our recommendations" concerning Nigeria.

The USCIRF leaders maintained that "there is no justification as to why the State Department did not designate Nigeria ... as a Country of Particular Concern, despite its own reporting and statements."

The USCIRF leaders cited the Christmas massacre as "the latest example of deadly violence against religious communities in Nigeria that even the State Department has condemned," adding that "the majority of Commissioners have travelled to Nigeria and noted the threats to freedom of religion or belief and the deadly implications to religious communities."

While the State Department took USCIRF's recommendation to place Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the CPC list, it did not include the other five countries USCIRF recommended the designation for: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.

The department acknowledged that "significant violations of religious freedom also occur in countries that are not designated."

Regarding Afghanistan, the State Department listed the ruling Islamic terrorist group, the Taliban, as an Entity of Particular Concern.

Courtesy of The Christian Post.