October 1, 2020
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
United States Department of State
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520
1. Ambassador Sam Brownback
2. Assistant Secretary Bob Destro
3. Ms. Sarah Makin, International Religious Freedom Advisor, NSC
Letter calling on the State Department to Designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
We are grateful that the United States Department of State maintains the promotion of international religious freedom as a priority for U.S. foreign policy. You reiterated this commitment when announcing the release of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report on 10 July 2020. In your speech you also raised the situation of violence in Nigeria, specifically stating: “In Nigeria, ISIS and Boko Haram continue to attack Muslims and Christians alike. ISIS beheaded 10 Christians in that country just this past December.” Ambassador Brownback also echoed the seriousness of the escalating violence against religious communities in Nigeria, stating “I’m deeply concerned about what’s happening in Nigeria. We really need the Nigerian government to step up and act much more effectively in their space.”
One of the tools in the US efforts to ensure freedom of religion or belief and in addressing the violence in Nigeria is the annual designation of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs). We as member organizations of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable urge you to take into consideration the following recommendation of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
In their annual reports since 2009, and in its most recent 2019 report, USCIRF asserts that Nigeria has met the CPC standard with regards to its “systematic, ongoing and egregious” religious freedom violations. They stated, “The Nigerian government at the national and state levels continued to tolerate violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, and suppressed the freedom to manifest religion or belief.” This disregard for religious freedom and human rights can be seen in the recent Kano Police arrest of atheist Mubarak Bala, the Kano Upper Sharia Court’s death penalty sentence against a Nigerian singer under accusations of blasphemy, and the impunity enjoyed by murderers and kidnappers of Christians and Christian leaders this year. USCIRF also raised the alarm for the “religious sectarian violence” which has increased, and in which Christians and Muslims are being attacked “based on their religious and ethnic identity.” USCIRF shares Ambassador Brownback’s concern that the Nigerian federal government continuously fails to “implement effective strategies to prevent or stop such violence or to hold perpetrators accountable.” We, therefore, strongly support the recommendation made by USCIRF and urge the State Department to remove Nigeria from the Special Watch List and formally designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.
In addition to USCIRF, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Agnes Callamard, has also voiced her concerns on Nigeria. Following her August-September 2019 visit to Nigeria, she reported that “The warning signs are flashing bright red: increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions” and “widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings” is a common reality in Nigeria. She warned that “The farmer-herder conflict may have become or will become Nigeria’s gravest security challenge” due in part to “the ethno-religious dimensions” of the conflict and the “toxic rhetoric” that is used by groups to justify the killings.
The flags raised on the religious freedom and security situation in Nigeria are many and diverse, coming from various sources. Below we have combined a collection of these reports and articles that raise serious questions regarding the security and religious freedom situation in Nigeria:
- USCIRF 2019 Annual Report, “USCIRF again recommended that Nigeria be designated by the State Department as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom violations that are “systematic, ongoing and egregious.” USCIRF has recommended CPC status for Nigeria since 2009, however the State Department has never designated it as such.
- USCIRF Shari’a Criminal Law in Northern Nigeria 2019 Report
- United Kingdom All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief: Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?
- UN Special Rapporteur: End of visit statement of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on her visit to Nigeria
- Five UN Special Procedures Communications specifically relating to religion and belief, freedom of expression and rule of law (2019-2020) that remain unanswered by the Nigerian government.
- UNHCR Nigeria violence sees 23,000 refugees flee into Niger
- José Luis Bazán: “Working Paper, Fulani Militias’ Terror: Compilation of News (2017-2020)”, Brussels, May 2020.
- August 2020 Amnesty International report: Nigeria: Government failings leave rural communities at the mercy of gunmen
- August 2020 International Committee on Nigeria (ICON): Nigeria: Silent Slaughter
- August 2020 Mission Africa Research: “The Quiet Genocide”
- August 2020 Intersociety: “1,421 Christians Hacked to Death by Nigeria’s Jihadists in Seven Months of 2020”
- June 2020 Genocide Watch: “Genocide Watch Map of Genocidal Massacres Nigeria and the Sahel 2010-2020”
- May 2020 Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA): HURIWA condemns the Kajuru massacres
- March 2020 Intersociety: Nigeria: A Killing Field of Defenceless Christians
- December 2019 Open Doors: Nigeria Country Dossier
- November 2019 Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART UK): “‘Your Land or Your Blood’ The escalating persecution and displacement of Christians in northern and central Nigeria.”
- August 2019 Jubilee Campaign: “Genocide is Loading”
- 2016 21Wilberforce: “Nigeria – Fractured and Forgotten: Discrimination and violence along religious fault lines”
- August 2020 Ruth Mclean The New York Times: “Outspoken Atheist, Arrested in Nigeria for Blapshemy, Hasn’t Been Seen Since” January 2020 Nina Shea in Hudson Institute/ National Catholic Register : “Africa’s Young Christian Communities Are Now in Islamic-Extremist Crosshairs”
- December 2019 Bernard-Henri Lévy in the Wall Street Journal: “The New War Against Africa’s Christians.”
In light of the above-mentioned concerns and in accordance with USCIRF’s recommendations and the State Department’s expressed commitment to protect religious freedom “all around the world,” we respectfully urge the State Department to designate the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. The Nigerian government continues to show it is unwilling to effectively address the widespread violence which is both escalating and disproportionately targeting religious communities in Nigeria. The CPC designation will grant the State Department – in contrast to the Special Watch List designation – the ability to exert real pressure on Nigeria if they do not immediately and effectively address the violence against religious communities and provide protection, as well as cease the arbitrary arrests and blaming of religious communities for expressing their grievances.
Christian Freedom International
International Christian Concern
Pakistan Christian Association (PCA)
Mission Africa International
Save the Persecuted Christians
Set My People Free
Frank Wolf, Member of Congress 1981-2014, retired
Scott Morgan, President, Red Eagle Enterprises
Shakeel Raphael, leading the Free Nadeem Samson Campaign.