WASHINGTON has removed Nigeria from its list of religious violator nations that constantly engage in or tolerate systematic and egregious violations of religious freedoms against its citizens.
Up until now, Nigeria had been on the list of religious violators, mainly as a result of the activities of Fulani cattle herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists, who go about attacking churches and killing Christians. In 2020, the US placed Nigeria and six other countries on its special watch list of states that had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedoms.
In a review of the process this week, the US has removed Nigeria from the list and published a fresh one that has blacklisted Russia, China and eight other countries as countries of particular concern for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who is currently in Kenya on an official visit, is scheduled to visit Nigeria this week and meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss the matter further.
Mr Blinken said: “The United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country. In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.
“This administration is committed to supporting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief, including by confronting and combating violators and abusers of this human right. Each year the secretary of state has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act.
“I am designating Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. I am also placing Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a special watch list for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”
He added that he is designating organisations including al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, Isis, Isis-Greater Sahara, Isis West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin and the Taliban as entities of particular concern. Northeast Nigeria is currently being plagued by Boko Haram and Isis West Africa.
Mr Blinken added: “The challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic and deeply entrenched. 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 and they require the international community’s urgent attention.
“We will continue to press all governments to remedy shortcomings in their laws and practices and to promote accountability for those responsible for abuses. The US remains committed to working with governments, civil society organisations and members of religious communities to advance religious freedom around the world and address the plight of individuals and communities facing abuse, harassment and discrimination on account of what they believe, or what they do not believe.”