(LifeSiteNews) — Multiple human rights groups have rebuked the Biden administration for removing Nigeria from the list of countries that severely violate religious freedom.
Even though radical Islamists frequently kill Christians, President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) regarding religious liberty earlier this year. The shocking decision led many human rights groups both domestically and in Nigeria to blast the decision publicly ahead of Blinken’s recent visit to Nigeria on November 18.
Calling Blinken’s decision “unexplainable,” U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) chair Nadine Maenza said on November 17 that the organization is “especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year [by the Trump administration], as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam.”
“USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom,” added Maenza.
According to the State Department, “Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, the President is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated ‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).”
Listed as “severe violations” are torture, prolonged detention without charges, forced disappearance, and other flagrant denials of life, liberty, or security of persons.
Recent attacks against Christians in Nigeria included the September 26 massacre of 38 Christians by Muslim radicals and the October 31 kidnapping of an entire Christian congregation. An average of 17 Christians are murdered by jihadists every day in Nigeria.
“More than 40 religious organizations from across the world signed an appeal in August for the relisting of Nigeria over rising religious violations,” stated Franklyne Ogbunwezeh, a senior research fellow and director for Genocide Prevention in Africa at Christian Solidarity International.
“The fact remains that in northern Nigeria, Sharia and blasphemy laws are still being used to discriminate against Christians. Christians don’t get permission to build or renovate their churches — we know that. And the government at the state level is increasingly becoming authoritarian,” added Ogbunwezeh.
“We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the north-central part of the country and the northeast,” described Christian Association of Nigeria president Rev. Samson Ayokunle. “That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today, and Nigerians are living witnesses.”
Despite the deadly persecution at the hands of radical groups like Islamic States Western African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram, many of the governments in the country’s northern region either do nothing or actively aid in the Islamic takeover, Ayokunle said.
“ISWAP and other Islamic terrorists that surrendered or were captured were not allowed to face the wrath of the law,” explained Ayokunle. “These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the north down to the Atlantic Ocean in the south.”
“In a similar vein, Christian students had and are still complaining that they are denied admission to government-owned universities in the north to study courses such as law and medicine, among others,” he lamented. “Christian students such as Leah Sharibu in 2018 and students recently kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School were left with the kidnappers without any purposeful rescue mission organized for them.”
“The relatives and churches of the kidnapped people were forced and are being forced to pay [a] ransom worth millions of Naira to secure their people or children! Up till now, the federal government refused to see banditry as terrorism and has therefore refused to label them as terrorists.”
In the opinion of International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) Executive Director Kyle Abts, “At its core, the CPC designation promotes accountability between the Nigerian government and the U.S. government. Withdrawal of Nigeria could embolden violators of religious freedom.”
“Maintaining Entity of Particular Concern (EPC) on Boko Haram and ISWAP is important, but when you remove the CPC designation, you are basically removing the government’s responsibility to protect her citizens and provide human flourishing.”