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Open letter to President Biden: Please don't ignore "rampant violence” in Nigeria

  • 46 leading global advocates and organisations for religious freedom call for Biden Administration to reinstate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern”

  • 17 Christians killed every day in Nigeria because of their faith

WASHINGTON, DC (14 December 2021) -ADF International has joined 14 religious freedom and human rights organizations and 32 leading global advocates in calling for the Biden Administration to redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). A joint letter, sent to President Biden earlier this week, sheds light on the ongoing violence, killing and displacement of Christians in Nigeria.

The letter has been signed by global human rights experts including Baroness Caroline Cox and Lord David Alton from the UK’s House of Lords, as well as national faith leaders from Nigeria, such as Rev. Dr. Benjamin Kwashi, the Archbishop of Jos.

“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. International pressure is one of the most significant weapons the world has to stop the slow-motion war unfolding in Nigeria,” reads the letter, which can be found in full here.

Additionally, survivors of religious persecution have added their names, such as Pastor Andrew Brunson who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years for sharing his faith; and Joy Bishara, the survivor of a Boko Haram kidnapping. 

Detailing horrific violations of human rights targeted against Christians and other faith groups, the letter highlights issues such as death penalties issued under unjust blasphemy laws:

“The ongoing violence, killing, and displacement against Christians and others have only increased. 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 utilized against humanists and others. Accusations of blasphemy for insulting the Prophet Muhammad could be met with a death sentence.”

A worsening situation for religious freedom

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a CPC in December 2020, and religious freedom conditions have only worsened since. However, Nigeria was removed from the list of countries of concern in 2021 – a move which human rights experts have criticized.

“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. 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,” the letter reads.
Sean Nelson serves as Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International, one of the 15 religious freedom organizations to join the open letter, and gave the following comment:

“No one should be persecuted for their faith. 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.”

“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,” he continued.

Christians in Nigeria facing severe persecution

Christians living in Nigeria face some of the worst acts of persecution in the world. For over a decade, terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State-West Africa Province have targeted Christians and other religious groups. In recent years, the brutality of attacks from various militants has only increased. Further, despite guarantees of religious freedom in the Nigerian Constitution, discriminatory laws and practices, such as the use of blasphemy laws, affect a wide range of individuals, including 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 U.S. to impose sanctions and encourage countries to improve their religious freedom conditions.

Nelson said, “The need for Nigeria to be redesignated as a Country of Particular Concern is justified by the severe persecution faced by Christians daily, particularly in Northern Nigeria. We cannot turn a blind eye to a country where at least 17 Christians are killed every day simply because of their faith. The United States must put pressure on the Nigerian government, which continues to allow terrorists and criminals to attack faith communities and commit gross human rights violations with impunity. Nigeria must be redesignated as a Country of Particular Concern.”

Find out more about ADF International’s work for global religious freedom:

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