A letter, initiated by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), was sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 29 urging him to redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act.
“Religious violence and intolerance directed toward Nigerian Christians has worsened in recent years,” the letter read. “One report documented more than 4,650 cases of Nigerian Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021. Accordingly, Nigeria earns the dubious honor—for the second consecutive year—of being the deadliest country on earth for Christians.”
In 2020, the U.S. State Department, under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced that Nigeria was among 10 nations it had identified as Countries of Particular Concern for violating international religious freedom laws.
“Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of government respect religious freedom,” former U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chairwoman Gayle Manchin said at the time.
USCIRF had recommended that Nigeria remain on the CPC list the following year, but on Nov. 17, 2021, the State Department, under Blinken’s leadership, removed Nigeria from the list. The removal curiously preceded Blinken’s visit to Nigeria Nov. 18-19 to “discuss furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalizing democracy.”
Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the secretary of state—under authority delegated by the president—is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate which countries’ governments have engaged in or have tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Those countries are then specified as CPCs. If deemed necessary, the secretary of state can suggest sanctions or other policy options to address the serious violations of religious freedom committed by CPCs.
The June 29 letter addressed Blinken’s decision to overlook the persecution of Nigerian Christians.
“Last year … you inexplicably removed Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) despite no demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions. On the contrary, the situation in Nigeria has grown worse. We previously urged you to immediately reverse your misguided decision, and we write today to renew our call.”
Sens. Mike Braun (R-Indiana), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) also signed their names to the letter.
Photo: Iulian Dragomir/Alamy