Thursday, February 8, 2024

House advances resolution to increase sanctions on Nigeria over persecution of Christians

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has advanced a resolution to increase sanctions and pressure on the Nigerian government over the rampant persecution of Christians and other minorities in the country.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the resolution would call on the Biden administration to designate Nigeria a “country of particular concern” (CPC), a designation that comes with additional sanctions.

The resolution would also urge the administration to appoint a special U.S. envoy to Nigeria to monitor and report on incidents of persecution.

Smith and other proponents of the bill, including Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), maintain that adding Nigeria to the State Department’s CPC blacklist would be an effective means to pressure the Nigerian government to address the persecution.

Sean Nelson, a legal counsel for ADF, has previously told CNA that the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.”

For years now Nigeria has been recognized by religious rights groups as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian. According to Open Doors International 4,998 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2023, meaning that 82% of all Christians killed for their faith last year were in Nigeria.

In late January, Nigerian Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of the Diocese of Makurdi told CNA that the persecution amounts to a Christian “genocide” in which radical Islamic groups’ goal is to “systematically” eliminate the Christian population from Nigeria.

Despite this, the Biden administration has left Nigeria off the CPC list for the last three years. This year the administration’s decision to leave Nigeria off the list came just weeks after a series of attacks on Christmas left more than 200 Nigerian Christians dead.

Smith said in a Wednesday statement that the Nigerian government “has enabled widespread murder and violence through indifference and a gross failure to protect victims and prosecute Islamist terrorists” and that the US State Department “is not using all the tools provided to hold guilty parties accountable.”

“Following the Biden administration’s repeated failure to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern despite widespread outcry, we are grateful to the members of Congress who are taking these vital steps to increase pressure on Nigeria for its egregious violations of religious freedom,” Nelson said in a Wednesday press release.

“No person should be persecuted for their faith, and it is imperative that the U.S. government condemn the targeted violence, unjust imprisonments, and egregious blasphemy laws that plague Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria,” he added.

Nelson told CNA that the resolution “lays out an undeniable case that Nigeria has engaged in and tolerated egregious, systematic, and ongoing violations of religious freedom, and some of the worst in the world, particularly for Christians in the north.”

If Congress passes the resolution, Nelson said he hopes the Biden administration would “listen and change course.”

“More importantly,” he said, he believes the resolution’s passage “would send an immense signal of support for the victims of persecution in Nigeria themselves, who have asked for the international community to raise their voices and would put pressure on the Nigerian government to take the persecution seriously, hold attackers accountable, and free those who have been imprisoned and charged under blasphemy-related allegations.”

“There has already been a great amount of outcry over the lack of the CPC designation for Nigeria by the USCIRF and civil society organizations that focus on international religious freedom,” he said. “Having the voice of Congress echo those concerns would also give the concerns an international amplification that is sorely needed.”

According to Nelson, the Nigerian resolution will now move forward for a vote in the House. However, no date has been set for when the vote will take place.

By Peter Pinedo, CNA

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