State Department Excludes Nigeria from List of Religious Freedom Violators

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the U.S. Department of State announced its list of designations for state and non-state religious freedom violators, according to a press statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The most severe category of designation, called the “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC)” list, includes countries that have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” This year, Secretary Blinken announced that he would include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the CPC list.

Notably missing from this list is Nigeria, a country that the State Department had named as a CPC in previous years for the ongoing crisis facing Christians from Fulani militants and Boko Haram. As the situation in Nigeria continues to worsen for the country’s Christian community, this omission comes as a surprise to ICC and other human rights organizations following the crisis.

The announcement falls after the release of ICC’s Persecutor of the Year Awards, documenting the top persecutors of last year, in which ICC named Nigeria as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom for Christians. ICC also released a report on the transgressions of the Nigerian government which has failed to adequately respond to the violence against Christians and even perpetuates the persecution in some incidents.

The next category of designation, or “Special Watch List” (SWL), includes countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” This year, the SWL will include Comoros, Algeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Algeria is a new country to the list, on account of the increased use of the country’s blasphemy law against religious minorities, as well as the continued closure of the Protestant churches across the country. ICC has continued to raise persecution in Algeria with government officials and welcomes the inclusion of Algeria to the SWL.

The challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched,” said Secretary Blinken in the statement. “They exist in every country.  They demand sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo.  They require the international community’s urgent attention.”

ICC President Jeff King urged the State Department not to forget about the plight of Nigerian Christians.

Although we celebrate the inclusion of Algeria on the SWL, we are troubled by Nigeria’s omission as a CPC,” said King. “The Nigerian government has done almost nothing to stop the violence against Nigerian Christians, leading to continued violent persecution. In some instances, as with Kaduna’s Governor El-Rufai, the Nigerian government has even furthered the violence. We will continue to raise the voices of the many victims of Nigeria with the U.S. government and will continue to serve Nigeria’s Christian community.”

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