United States: Nigeria Viewed as Respecting Religious Freedom

February 14, 2023
Source: fsspx.news
Burial of victims in Benue State

A US State Department official sent a statement to EWTN saying that “after careful consideration,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has decided not to put Nigeria back on a list of religious freedom violators.

The statement comes as human rights activists and members of Congress pressure the Biden administration to put Nigeria back on the watch list to end violence and persecution of Christians in the country.

More than 5,000 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria, according to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International. Widespread violence and persecution of Christians in Nigeria continues this year with the January murder of Fr. Isaac Achi, who was burned in his home.

This has led many religious rights advocates to call on the United States to take a strong stand in defense of Nigerian Christians by adding Nigeria to their annual list of Countries Violating Religious Freedom: List of Countries of Special Concern (CPC).

The unnamed US State Department official sent a statement on February 7 in response to a query from EWTN correspondent Owen Jensen, regarding Nigeria's omission from the CPC list.

“After careful consideration, the Secretary [of State] has determined that Nigeria does not meet the legal threshold for designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” the statement read. Regarding the murder of Fr. Achi, the statement said, “We are saddened and appalled.”

“We continue to be concerned about the state of religious freedom in Nigeria, which is well documented in the annual report of the IRF (International Religious Freedom),” the official added. “We will continue to press the government to address this.”

The statement noted that the State Department has redesignated two terrorist organizations in Nigeria, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, as “entities of particular concern with regard to religious freedom.”

Human rights monitors in Nigeria and members of the Catholic Church have argued that the Nigerian government itself should be on the CPC list, in part because it has allowed these groups to continue to persecute Christians and religious minorities.

Msgr. Jude Arogundade, Bishop of the Diocese of Ondo, told a group gathered in Washington that members of the ruling party had links to terrorists. Ondo Diocese suffered a terrorist attack on Pentecost Sunday 2022 in which 50 Catholics attending Mass were killed at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Owo State, Nigeria.

Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer and fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the group that terrorists in Nigeria continue to act with “impunity” and are rarely held accountable for their crimes.

Persecution of Christians, including massacres, murders and kidnappings, has intensified in Nigeria in recent years, according to Aid to the Church in Need. However, 2022 is the second consecutive year that the country has been excluded from the CPC list. Members of the House of Representatives charged: “The Biden administration continues to leave Nigeria off the CPC list for political reasons.”