The government’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is “appalled” by the removal of Nigeria from the U.S. Department of State’s annual list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs).
“Nigeria, where more Christians are killed than anywhere else on the face of the planet, American leaders have suddenly decided to turn their backs and walk away,” said Tony Perkins, a USCIRF commissioner and Family Research Council president. The USCIRF is made up of private citizens appointed to staggered terms by a U.S. president.
Curiously, the State Department’s announcement Nov. 17 preceded U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria Nov. 18-19 to “discuss furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalizing democracy.”
Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the secretary of state—under authority delegated by the president—is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate which countries’ governments have engaged in or have tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Those countries are then specified as CPCs. If deemed necessary, the secretary of state can suggest sanctions or other policy options to address the serious violations of religious freedom committed by CPCs.
Nigeria was placed on the CPCs list last year, and the USCIRF recommended that the country remain on the list this year.
Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors has reported that an average of 10 Christians a day are killed for their faith in Nigeria.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said that his organization has documented thousands of targeted killings of Nigerian Christians every year for more than a decade.
“In no other country on earth do we see such a sustained level of outright violence directed towards a Christian community,” he said, “and the situation has only deteriorated over the past 12 months. The Nigerian government has stubbornly refused to address this violence. The removal of Nigeria from this list will embolden bad actors and strongly deter efforts to bring peace to the region.”
Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called the sudden removal of Nigeria from the CPC list a “a serious blow to religious freedom in both Nigeria and across the region.”
“Just when we should be doing everything possible to stop the relentless violence that’s targeting Christians and others, we do the opposite,” he said. “This rewards the Nigerian government for tolerating severe religious freedom violations and sends a message to extremists that their actions will continue to go unpunished. People of faith in Nigeria will bear the fallout of this decision, and that’s unacceptable.”
Perkins warned that the State Department’s decision to turn a blind eye to the religious persecution going on in Nigeria will create a dangerous precedent.
“If America ignores what’s happening there, it will only excuse Nigerian leaders who do the same,” he said. “International pressure is one of the only weapons the world has to stop this slow-motion war.”