The U.S. State Department has added Nigeria to its list of "countries of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act, making it the first secular democracy to appear on the list.
In a press statement Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the State Department’s updates to the annual list of state actors that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
“The United States is designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,’” he said.
Gayle Manchin, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, praised Pompeo’s decision to add Nigeria to the list: “We are gratified that the State Department has named 10 countries as CPCs. We particularly welcome Nigeria’s designation for the first time as a CPC for tolerating egregious violations of religious freedom, which USCIRF had been recommending since 2009.”
“Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom,” she added.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom describes itself as “an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.”
The Rev. Johnnie Moore, an international religious freedom advocate who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, recently told Fox News that the situation in Nigeria has deteriorated to the point where “thousands of churches have been torched, children massacred, pastors beheaded, and homes and fields set ablaze by the tens of thousands, with people being targeted for their Christian faith alone.”
According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who co-wrote a book with Moore about the persecution of Christians in Nigeria, titled, The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa, “there is little to no price to pay for the kidnapping, extortion, burning of churches, or for mayhem and murder of Christians. Even when police or military actually captures the perpetrators, the judiciary won’t hold deal seriously with the criminal/terrorists.”
Cooper and Moore wrote their book after traveling to Nigeria earlier this year. After meeting with dozens of victims of terrorism, they concluded that “the terrorists’ aim is to ethnically cleanse northern Nigeria of its Christians and to kill every Muslim who stands in their way.”
“It seems very, very clear to us that for various reasons, the government is failing at its fundamental responsibility to protect its citizens,” Moore said in a previous interview with The Christian Post.
“Across every facet of Nigerian society, whether the religious leader was Muslim or Christian or whether the victim was describing something that happened to them in the center of the country or at the hands of ISIS or Boko Haram in the northeast, it was really clear that everyone felt like the government wasn’t doing enough or wasn’t able to do enough.”
In addition to labeling Nigeria and nine other sovereign states as CPCs under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department announced that it's also "placing the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated ‘severe violations of religious freedom.’”
A country on the special watch list does not meet all the criteria for presence on the list of CPCs but still “engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.”
While all 10 of the nations singled out as CPCs by the State Department were recommended for placement on the list by USCIRF, the organization’s 2020 annual report also recommended the designation of India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam as CPCs.
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America expressed “deep disappointment” about the decision not to designate India as a CPC.
The addition of Nigeria was not the only change made to the State Department’s list of CPCs and special watch list. Sudan and Uzbekistan were removed from the special watch list “based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year.”
In Defense of Christians, an advocacy organization for Christians and religious minorities in Africa and the Middle East, commended Pompeo for the CPC designations and noted that the secretary also designated the following groups as Entities-of-Particular Concern: al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban.
“We want to commend Secretary Pompeo for his leadership in advancing international religious freedom,” said IDC President Toufic Baaklini. “The designation of Nigeria as a CPC is a much needed first step in responding to the Christian genocide there. Saudi Arabia once again is deserving of its CPC designation and we encourage the Secretary to refrain from issuing the kingdom the sanctions waiver it has been receiving annually since 2006,” he added.