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Outcry after Nigeria removed from U.S. “Country of Particular Concern” list

  • U.S. State Department removes Country of Particular Concern designation for Nigeria despite worsening religious freedom situation
  • U.S. State Department adds Russia as a Country of Particular Concern, and places Algeria on the Special Watch List

WASHINGTON D.C. (22 November 2021) – Why is the United States undermining its commitment to protecting international religious freedom? The U.S. State Department released its latest list of countries to be designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) and countries to be added to the “Special Watch List” (SWL). Among those omitted from these designations were Nigeria and Afghanistan, drawing significant concerns as religious freedom conditions decline globally.

“Persecution against Christians and other religious minorities around the world must end. For too long, governments and non-state actors have abused people of faith, including in countries like Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. The United States has been a leader on International Religious Freedom for decades, and we are deeply concerned that the State Department found no need to designate these countries as Countries of Particular Concern or to add them to the Special Watch List. At the same time, we applaud the State Department for adding Russia as a CPC and recognizing the severe religious freedom problems in Algeria by placing them on the SWL. We urge the State Department to prioritize advocacy in every country facing grave religious freedom conditions, and to ensure that the United States remains a global leader for religious freedom advocacy,” said Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.

Christians persecuted in Nigeria

Christians living in Nigeria face some of the worst acts of persecution. Millions of people have fled devastating violence and have become internally displaced. As a result of the violence, 13,000 churches have been closed or destroyed altogether. Many victims have been kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted or married, or sold into slavery. Reports show that at least 17 Christians were killed every day in the first half of 2021 alone.

In December 2020, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a country of particular concern, a designation that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had been recommending since 2009. In August 2021, ADF International joined with dozens of other human rights organizations and experts in calling for the State Department to re-designate Nigeria as a CPC.

In response to the State Department’s most recent designations, the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Nadine Maenza, said, “While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”

“Outcry over the State Department’s removal of Country of Particular Concern status for Nigeria’s religious freedom violations is entirely warranted. No explanations have been given that could justify this decision. If anything, the situation in Nigeria has grown worse over the last year. Thousands of Christians, as well as Muslims who oppose the goals of terrorist and militia groups, are targeted, killed, and kidnapped, and the government is simply unwilling to stop these atrocities. Blasphemy cases are regularly brought against religious minorities, including humanists, in the North. Removing Country of Particular Concern status for Nigeria will only embolden the increasingly authoritarian government there. We call on the U.S. government to rectify this inexplicable decision, and instead continue America’s long tradition of standing up for those who are persecuted worldwide,” continued Nelson.

Identifying the worst violators

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) 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”. Furthermore, countries that do not meet the full CPC criteria but engage in or tolerate religious freedom violations may be added to the Special Watch List. These designations provide leverage for the U.S. to issue sanctions and encourage countries to improve their religious freedom conditions.

The State Department’s latest designations include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern. Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua were also added to the Special Watch List.

 

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