Religious freedom: US designates Nigeria ‘Country of Particular Concern’

The United States has designated Nigeria a “Country of Particular Concern” over religious freedom conditions in the country.

This was contained in the 2020 Report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report detailed developments in the country in 2019 and made recommendations, among which was designating Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern.

The Report said: “Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria remained poor in 2019, with both state and societally perpetrated violations.

“The federal government continued to detain the leader of a Shi’a minority group, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and violently cracked down on its members during religious processions and protests. In July, the government banned the group, claiming
it was violent and annoying to society. IMN members continued to protest in defiance of the ban, stating they were a nonviolent organization exercising their freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech. The IMN is the largest Shi’a organization in Nigeria, with an estimated three million followers. Since the Nigerian army’s 2015 massacre of more than 340 IMN members, no military officials have been publicly held accountable.

“Throughout the year, the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-West Africa continued their insurgencies in northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. During the week of Christmas, ISIS-West Africa released a video showing the horrific killing of 11 captives and stated it was executing Christians in retaliation for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. The terrorist groups targeted security forces more than in any previous year. Although military and civilian forces were able to stem some attacks, Boko Haram successfully targeted military posts and convoys, houses, farmlands, and mosques; abducted civilians; and killed hostages, including numerous humanitarian aid workers. Since 2009, Boko Haram has displaced more than two million people and killed tens of thousands.

“The widespread security issues of intercommunal and militia violence, rampant kidnapping, and general criminality also negatively impacted religious freedom. There were multiple reports of criminal attacks on religious and traditional leaders and houses of worship. In the surge of hundreds of kidnappings in 2019, media reported numerous incidents of kidnappings for ransom and the killing of Protestant and Catholic priests, including in Enugu, Ondo, and Kaduna states.

“There was less reporting of religious-based targeting in intercommunal violence in the Middle Belt region as compared to 2018; however, there continued to be reports of communal or ethnic militia attacks on entire communities, such as in Kaduna between Christian Adara and Muslim Fulani groups, in Zamfara, and in Taraba. The Nigerian
government failed to effectively improve justice and security for its citizens, and was unsuccessful in addressing the immense need for accountability and reconciliation around past conflict.”

In the Recommendations, the USCIRF said: “Designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), and continue to designate Boko Haram as an “entity of particular concern” for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by IRFA;

“• Enter into a binding agreement, as authorized under Section 405(c) of IRFA, and provide associated financial and technical support, to obligate the Nigerian government to take substantial steps to address religious freedom violations, including but not limited to:

“• Enhance training for officials, the military, and police officers on countering hate speech based on religious identity, responding to sectarian violence, reporting on violence against religious communities, and holding accountable security officers accused of excessive use of force and other human rights abuses;

“• Increase conflict resolution programming and research to reduce violence and discrimination based on religious identity;

“• Increase funding for security sector reform and rule of law programming, and include religious institutional actors in security and justice programs;

“• Establish an independent judicial commission of inquiry (COI) to investigate the Nigerian security forces’ ineffective efforts to protect vulnerable religious communities, including Christians and Muslims, in the north and central regions of the country as well as the killing of IMN members in 2018 and 2019, then publicly releasing any relevant findings including evidence taken from police reports; and

“• Allocate funding for programs that engage civil society, security, and official actors in inclusive efforts to protect places of worship and other holy sites.”

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