Room for Improvement At the State Department

Official Portrayal of Nigerian Violence Still Leaves Much To Be Desired

Over the past decade thousands of Nigerian’s have lost their lives to violent Muslim extremists. While endemic violence victimizes Christians throughout the north, much of the violence seems to be linked to events in Plateau State, the northern-most Christian majority state. The Nigerian government’s refusal to prosecute Muslims who commit crimes against Christians has created a climate of impunity, which vastly compounds the problem. Jubilee Campaign’s work to end the violence in Nigeria takes many forms. Earlier this year it took us to the International Criminal Court at the Hague in the Netherlands. Another form of our work involves providing clear and accurate information on human rights abuses to those such as the U.S. Department of State who report on these issues.

As we have discussed in the past, the formal reports released by the U.S. Department of State play a critical role in human rights work on a variety of issues, including religious freedom. Therefore any errors or omissions in the reports seriously hamper the work of the human rights community. Jubilee Campaign vigilantly urges that the State Department include the information we provide in their reports, but it is an uphill battle. As an example, this “half report” includes strengthened, but still problematic language on the violence in Nigeria’s Plateau State. See this paragraph from the Nigeria Chapter.

The lack of justice and reconciliation in Plateau State after the 2008 violence facilitated the eruption of new communal killings there beginning in January. The violence caused hundreds of deaths, extensive property damage, and the displacement of thousands of residents. NGOs and traditional leaders led conflict resolution efforts to reduce sectarian violence in their communities with only limited success. The government prosecuted few suspects. With little fear of reprisal from the judicial system, the violence continued in the state. Some months experienced more violence than others, but violence has remained at an elevated level since 2008.

Jubilee Campaign hails the State Department’s recognition of the pervasive and deadly climate of impunity in Nigeria. During ten years of arson, assault, manslaughter and murder, only a handful of prosecutions have taken place. In 2010 barely 15 convictions occurred for the hundreds of lives lost that year and these are the first known convictions since the first wave of violence started in September of 2000.

However, the State Department’s version of events leaves much to be desired. Despite the decade-long history of inter-religious violence in Plateau, this report only acknowledges the last major cycle from 2008 to the present, which ignores the history and true genesis of the crisis. We urge the State Department to fairly and fully report the acts of violence committed by Muslim extremists against the Christian community. To facilitate this, in March of 2011 Jubilee Campaign held a Congressional Briefing on the violence in Nigeria, which was attended by a representative from the IRF office. We hope and expect that the State Department’s next report will include the Christmas Eve Terror bombings of 2010, the January and March 2011 outbreaks of violence and the September 11, 2011 bombings in Jos. We ask that the State Department recognize and clearly describe the manner in which Muslim extremists plan and initiate these waves of violence.

We also object to the word “reprisal” as used by the State Department. Vigilante groups may commit reprisals and establish a tenuous peace based on fear, but governments have the responsibility to prosecute criminals in accordance with due process of law. We believe that faithful prosecution and fair reparations, not fear of reprisal, will bring an end to the violence and allow for true healing and stability.

In light of the ties between Nigerian Muslim extremists and international terrorism, Jubilee Campaign believes the situation in Nigeria demands a very serious response. This violence and lack of security threatens the very fabric of the nation of Nigeria, with chilling parallels to Sudan. The situation in Nigeria demands action and in a more just world, the State Department would follow USCIRF’s recommendation and designate Nigeria a “Country of Particular Concern.” In the world we live in, it is unlikely that the U.S. Government will lay sanctions on the fourth largest supplier of oil to America. Nigeria’s prominence as a source of U.N. peacekeeper troops makes it difficult for the international community to bring effective pressure to bear. However, even within the constraints of our political reality, is accurate reporting too much to ask?