CSW is deeply concerned at the United States (US) State Department’s decision to remove Nigeria from its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list, in addition to their continued omission of several other countries in which the situation of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains under serious threat.
Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, the State Department is required to review the situation of FoRB in every country around the world, and designate those in which the government has engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” as CPCs.
Nigeria was added to the CPC list for the first time in 2020, but has now been removed from both the Tier 1 list and a second Special Watch List, which currently includes Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The failure to re-designate Nigeria so soon after it became a CPC is particularly concerning in view of ongoing, egregious religion-related violence by the terrorist group Boko Haram in the northeast, and assailants of Fulani origin in central States, and historic violations targeting Christian communities in the country’s Shari’a states. Violations have increased exponentially under the current administration. Since 2015 thousands have died and tens of thousands have been displaced in a campaign of attacks on predominantly Christian communities in central Nigeria by assailants of Fulani origin for whom religion is either a recruitment factor or a governing ethos.
This violence has been insufficiently addressed, and has metastasised, occasioning similar death and displacement in Muslim communities of Hausa ethnicity in northwestern states, and a general rise in abductions for ransom across the country by assailants of predominantly Fulani origin. Worryingly, terrorists in the north east have cemented ties with armed non-state actors both in northwestern and central Nigeria, amidst reports of the relocation of two Boko Haram leaders, their fighters and several bomb makers to forests in the south of Kaduna state, and of an Al Qaeda presence in the same area.
In Shari’a states, Christian communities continue to face a host of violations, including the abduction, forced conversion and marriage without parental consent of underage girls, and land seizures without compensation. CSW’s Nigeria office is currently working to assist seven families whose underage daughters were abducted by members of their local communities. In three cases in the Rogo Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano state, Muslim local authorities are reportedly collecting dowry for the girls, the youngest of whom is aged 14, on behalf of perspective suitors, and are offering them for marriage “at no cost” in January 2022, if not earlier.
In October the Kaduna state government demolished 263 buildings in the predominantly Christian Gracelands community in Zaria, including six churches, a school complex and homes, despite a court ruling against any demolition in at least one instance. The demolitions were carried out overnight and on the pretext that the land belonged to the National College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), yet the proprietors, who informed CSW they have heard nothing from the government since the demolitions occurred, had been granted official certificates of ownership for the land and had been paying all necessary taxes.
In Kano state, the majority of the children seized during police raids on the Du Merci Centre orphanages in Kano and Kaduna states in December 2019 have yet to be returned to Professor Richard Solomon Musa Tarfa and his wife Mercy, despite the dismissal of abduction charges against the professor, while six others aged four to eight were forcefully relocated to a remote area where their names have allegedly been changed.
In response to Nigeria’s removal from the list, the Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nadine Maenza, said in a statement: “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.”
A local CSW source said: “This decision is very disappointing, it will give perpetrators the green light to continue violating our rights.”
Also omitted from both lists were India, Syria and Vietnam, all of which were recommended for CPC designation by USCIRF in its April 2021 report, and in which violations of FoRB continue to meet the threshold laid out in the IRFA.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is highly alarmed at the US State Department’s premature removal of Nigeria from the CPC list at a time when the Nigerian authorities are still failing to protect vulnerable communities, while restricting the ability of journalists, activists and even victims to draw attention to their plight. We are also concerned at the continued omission of India, Syria and Vietnam, and appeal to the State Department to urgently review the situation of freedom of religion or belief in each of these countries, ensuring that economic and other exigences are not prioritised at the expense of the rights, freedoms and lives of individuals and religious communities.”
Notes to Editors:
1. The current list of CPCs is as follows: Burma, People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
2. USCIRF’s 2021 report also recommended that Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan receive Special Watch List designation, however none of these were included in either of the State Department lists.