Boko Haram Hearing and FTO Designation

WASHINGTON, DC (November 13, 2013) – Several human rights, religious liberty and civil society groups today welcomed the designation of Boko Haram–whose religious persecution of Christians has reached a catastrophic level–as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the U.S. Department of State.
In its official release, the White House announced its “strong support” for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north.”  According to the White House, the designation cuts off terrorist organizations from U.S. financial institutions and enables banks to freeze assets held in the U.S. Calling for a “comprehensive counterterrorism approach” which also “creates economic opportunity”, the White House declared that the U.S. stands “firmly with the people of Nigeria in their efforts to bring the terrorist violence perpetrated by these groups to an end.”
During today’s House Foreign Affairs hearing jointly held by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations (Rep. Christopher H. Smith, chairman) and the subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade (Rep Ted Poe, chairman), the Honorable Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the new Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, testified that Boko Haram and the Ansura terrorist organizations have been placed on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list this morning as a further step to empower U.S. law enforcement and the Treasury department with tools to pursue the violent terrorist organization.
In his opening remarks, Congressman Chris Smith used facts he found during a September visit to Nigeria to emphasize why the nature and the Boko Haram fits designation as am FTO.  He stated that during his trip he found that Boko Haram is a very sophisticated  organization operating in disconnected cells but coordinated at a high level and whose activities are not limited to Nigeria.   “There actions proves their participation in the global jihad movement that wages violent war world wide that to establish their skewed version of Islam as the prevailing religion globally.”  Various actions and statements by leaders indicate their international intent and thereby meet the three criteria and justify the FTO designation and we welcome this action.
“Victims and their families we have been in touch with welcome this long delayed and overdue designation.  We are also pleased with the emphasis in the White House and the Department of State announcements on enhancing the efforts of the Nigerian government to end the violence,” said Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign. According to our statistics, the publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined…Nigeria alone accounted for almost 60 percent of Christians killed globally.  Our statistics also show that more Christians then Muslims have been killed by the Boko Haram, contrary to the testimony of Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield who again repeated the claim that more Muslims have been killed.
The facts are that all too many citizens of northern Nigeria of both faiths have suffered the full range of persecution from abduction followed by forced participation in atrocities or sex slavery to death.  Congressman Smith who visited Abuja and Jos Nigeria in September, stated that it would not be accurate to describe the situation in Nigeria as a Muslim-Christian conflict. He found during his fact-finding trip that “Boko Haram is definitely targeting other Muslims who do not agree with their views.”
“Thousands of lives have been lost in this largely silent slaughter in Nigeria at the blood-thirsty hands of Boko Haram. Although it took long for the State Department to get the memo which the DOJ, DOD and Congress did, the time has come to help bring an end to this senseless violence and pre-genocide,” said Emmanuel Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer who is a Nigeria expert for the Washington Working Group on Nigeria – thecoalition which tirelessly advocated for Boko Haram to be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
Habila Adamu, the sole survivor of Boko Haram’s extermination of all Christian males in his neighborhood in a November 2012 massacre, was the first victim of the terror group to testify to the United States Congress.  He described in detail Boko Haram assailants asked, “if I am a member of the Nigeria Police, I said no. Are you a Nigerian soldier, I said no, I told them that I am a businessman. “Okay, are you a Christian?” I said I am a Christian. They asked me why are we preaching the message of Mohammed to you and you refuse to accept Islam. I told them I am a Christian … Then they asked , “Habila are you willing to die as a Christian?” and I told them. “I am ready to die as a Christian.” … They fired me through my nose and the bullet came through the back.  Habila’s full and stirring testimony can be found here.
Although applauding today’s announcements, Jubilee Campaign says there is more to be done:
  • The US has lagged behind in humanitarian assistance spending millions on Interfaith dialogue instead of de-radicalization programs or even relief. Nigeria’s President announced last week that he would not provide compensation for victims. The US should urge him to emulate America’s post-911 victim compensation fund for his citizens.
  • USAID has a PEACE project that researches extremism in target countries. Despite the data that puts Nigeria at the front of terror activity, USAID has not made Nigeria a priority country. In fact, it lists Nigeria specifically as an example of a country that doesn’t suffer extremism, but does not make an effort to study the situation to prove or disprove its assumption. USAID should consider designating Nigeria a priority country and studying this properly.
  • In regards to regional security cooperation, the US looked beyond the oil producing region to include northern Nigeria in its Bi-national Commission. More technical assistance  should be provided against the Boko Haram terrorism to enable the army combat a Taliban-insurgency from America’s lessons learned.
  • In the same vein, the US should work to contain the proliferation of post-Qaddafi and post northern Mali arms. Although the US consul general in Nigeria did raise public concern, it is unclear if strategic containment mechanisms were initiated.
  • The US should review the idea of placing more American lives in grave danger at the height of a low-grade insurgency by opening a consulate in Kano in a post-Benghazi era.                                           
In his testimony, Nigeria expert Emmanuel Ogebe stressed the following facts concerning United States policy.
  • The U.S. State Department has denied within its annual reports and in previous statements by officials the religious motivation of Boko Haram, which has repeatedly declared its goal of overthrowing the state and establishing a radical Muslim theocracy. To claim that religion does not play a role in the extremism exhibited by this terrorist group is disingenuous, deeply insensitive to victims and impairs U.S. threat analysis.
  • Prior to today’s designation, the State Department has downplayed the fact that Boko Haram has attacked U.S. citizens which potentially places more Americans including diplomats at risk.
  •  The U.S. has lagged behind in humanitarian assistance, nor has it encouraged the Nigerian government to assist victims or provide compensation to victims.
  •  Nigeria is a strategic security partner in the region and globally, and it currently participates in nine U.N. peacekeeping operations worldwide.

Ogebe noted that in addition to the humanitarian tragedy of these ongoing atrocities being inflicted on individuals solely because of a warped theology, there are concerns that if allowed to continue, this violent jihad will spread to other parts of Africa, destabilizing strategic areas of the continent and increasing threat to vital U.S. interests. The rest of his testimony can be seen here.

Click here to view the Hearing.