As we mentioned in our previous, online Hungarian Conservative article, even though Joe Biden claims himself to be the protector of human rights, he had not raised awareness to Christian persecution or helped persecuted Christian communities in the first year of his presidency.[i] A few weeks ago, Politico reported that on 17 November United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a controversial decision as he removed Nigeria from the annual list of countries that tolerate religious violence. [ii]Blinken’s move showed that the Biden administration not only forgot about persecuted Christian communities, but also denied the fact that there was religious persecution in Nigeria. More incomprehensible is the fact that the Blinken removed Nigeria from the mentioned list after he visited the African country – although the State Department said it was a coincidence – and he did not feel the need firstly to involve the major human rights organizations before making such decision and then to explain why he thinks the level of Christian persecution in Nigeria is not alarming. The removal was not only heavily criticized by major NGOs and activists, but also many of them urged the State Department to reconsider their removal as it does not correspond with the reality in which of Nigerian Christians have to live.
The Open Doors USA’s CEO David Curry released the following statement after the decision: ‘We’re deeply alarmed at today’s decision by the U.S. State Department to end the designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. This is not only a baffling error but it’s likely in direct violation of the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that requires these designations to be made in the first place.’ The Open Doors added in its statement that Nigeria is ranked ninth on the list of countries in the world, where Christians are persecuted and the watchdog has documented thousands of killings for more than a decade. The NGO also stated that they have not seen such sustained level of outright violence towards the Christian communities like in Nigeria and its level has deteriorated by 2021. Open Doors believes that Blinken’s move will embolden bad actors and deter efforts to bring peace.[iii]
We mentioned in our previous article that many reports had stated that the number of Christians killed was the highest in Nigeria: only in the first nine months of 2021 there has been 3,500 Nigerian Christians killed and unfortunately, since then this number has increased. In a radio interview, Hungarian State Secretary for Aid of Persecuted Christians Azbej Tristan said that Hungary considers helping African and Nigerian Christian communities as a high priority since, in recent years, West Africa has become a hotbed of Christian persecution.[iv]
Blinken’s decision was also criticized because the State Department only added Nigeria to the religious violence list in 2020 and the Secretary’s removal suggested that the situation of Nigerian Christians has improved this year while the reality shows the opposite, as—in 2021—the religious persecution dramatically increased in the country. Just a week after Blinken announced his move Sahara Reporters reported about the saddening news that in the Northern Nigerian Zamfara State, Christians received various letters of threat in which the Fulani demanded believers to close their churches, or otherwise, they will suffer from several attacks in December. According to the warning letters, Christians are forbidden to do any church activities after 5 pm.[v]
Secretary Blinken’s decision was indeed a ‘victory for the terrorists — it’s a defeat for anyone concerned with human rights and religious freedom’
Secretary Blinken’s decision was indeed a ‘victory for the terrorists — it’s a defeat for anyone concerned with human rights and religious freedom’ as the former Republican Congressman Frank Wolf said.[vi] On 2 November the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also reported the case from the Nigerian Kaduna State, where arm bandits kidnapped over 100, severely injured two, and shot one Baptist church worshippers during their service.[vii] Unfortunately, horrible incident from 2021 like these could be listed for hours. CAN National President’s Dr Samson Ayokunle also expressed his disappointment about Blinken’s move in a statement in which he wrote the following: ‘The US government did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the countries of “Particular Concern” on religious freedom, neither did they seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list. If they had done, we would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria.’ [viii]
Apart from the NGOs mentioned, another 12 organizations and 30 advocates urged the Biden administration to put Nigeria back on the list of countries that endorse or allow religious violence. Though Blinken’s controversial move was even criticized by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCFRI), which is the government agency that monitors freedom of religion and belief and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and the Congress, as well. In their press release, USCFRI’s Chair Nadine Maenza wrote the following: ‘USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom. While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.’ [ix]
Despite of the outrage three weeks after Blinken’s decision, the State Department is still silent about why they felt the need to make such a move. Some people assume that it was a political step as the US wants a good relationship with the Nigerian government though if that is the case then the Biden administration’s plan that they will always put the protection of all human rights before the US’s political interests was just another empty promise.
Sáron Sugár, researcher at Danube Institute
[i] Sáron Sugár, ‘Joe Biden Remains Silent on Christian Persecution’ (Hungarian Conservative, 28 Nov. 2021), https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/current/joe-biden-remains-silent-on-christian-persecution/ , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[ii] Nahal Toosi, ‘Christian groups furious at Blinken for removing Nigeria from religious violence list’ ( Politico, 23 Nov. 2021), https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/23/christian-groups-blinken-nigeria-religious-violence-list-523258 , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[iii] Open Doors USA, ‘US State Department Makes “Baffling Error” Removing “Country of Particular Concern” Distinction from Nigeria, Says International Persecution Watchdog Org’ (OpenDoorsUSA.org, 17. Nov. 2021), http://image.mail-opendoorsusa.org/lib/fe32157075640575731277/m/2/0306049f-cee6-40f7-b224-0c929b9e0d99.pdf , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[iv] Sáron Sugár, ‘Christian Persecution Should Become a Hot Topic for the UN and the Mainstream Media’, (Hungarian Conservative, 13. Sept. 2021), https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/current/christian-persecution-should-become-a-hot-topic-for-the-un-and-the-mainstream-media/ , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[v] Sahara Reporters, EXCLUSIVE: ‘Bandits Write Christians In Zamfara To Shut Down Churches Or Risk Attacks’, (Sahara Reporters, 29. Nov. 2021), http://saharareporters.com/2021/11/29/exclusive-bandits-write-christians-zamfara-shut-down-churches-or-risk-attacks , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[vi] Toosi, ‘Christian groups furious at Blinken for removing Nigeria from religious violence list’.
[vii] Politics Nigeria, ‘Bandits kill one, kidnap 100 in Kaduna’, (Politics Nigeria, 2. Nov. 2021), https://politicsnigeria.com/bandits-kill-one-kidnap-100-in-kaduna/ , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[viii] Sam Eyoboka and Nnamdi Ojiego, ‘CAN rejects US removal of Nigeria from religious violators’ list’, (Vanguard, 21 Nov. 2021), https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/11/can-rejects-us-removal-of-nigeria-from-religious-violators-list-2/, accessed 13. Dec. 2021.
[ix] Jon Brown, ‘Federal religious freedom panel ‘appalled’ at Biden admin for removing Nigeria from watchlist’, (Fox News, 19. Nov. 2021), https://www.foxnews.com/politics/federal-religious-freedom-panel-biden-admin-nigeria-watchlist , accessed 13. Dec. 2021.