Despite 52,000 Deaths, Biden’s State Dept. Leaves Nigeria Off Religious Freedom Watch List for 3rd Year
For the third consecutive year, the Biden administration’s Department of State has left Nigeria off of its list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” a list that catalogues the countries around the world that have perpetrated or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” The move comes despite the fact that Nigeria leads the world in the number of Christians that have been killed for publicly practicing their faith.
The latest in a series of seemingly unending atrocities committed by Islamist terrorists in the most populous nation in Africa happened on Christmas Eve, when gunmen attacked as many as 20 villages in the central Plateau region of Nigeria, killing as many as 160 and wounding hundreds more. Islamist Fulani herdsman carried out the attack, burning whole villages to the ground and executing dozens with machetes.
According to a report from Open Doors, 5,621 Christians were killed around the globe in 2023. Distressingly, 90% of those deaths occurred in Nigeria alone. Since 2009, when the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram began its campaign of violence, approximately 52,250 Nigerians have been murdered for their Christian faith, far and away the largest number of Christians killed in any country in the world.
In 2020, during the Trump administration, in response to the rising anti-Christian violence in Nigeria, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placed Nigeria on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for the first time. The CPC list was inaugurated in 1998 as part of the International Religious Freedom Act, which gave the president the ability to declare countries that were egregiously guilty of perpetrating or allowing religious freedom violations as a CPC. This designation was designed to be accompanied by diplomatic and economic penalties. Perennial entries on the list have included countries like North Korea, China, and Iran.
But in 2021, under the Biden administration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria from the CPC list without explanation. Notably, as observed by Family Research Council’s Arielle Del Turco, “the removal of Nigeria’s CPC status came one day before Blinken went to Nigeria to visit with state leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari.”
The following year, despite the murder of approximately 5,068 Nigerian Christians and the abduction of over 3,000 more, Biden’s State Department again left the country off of the CPC list. The pattern continued for the 2023 list.
“The Biden administration is where religious freedom goes to die,” FRC President and former U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chair Tony Perkins wrote on January 4 following the release of the list. “Unfortunately, thousands of people are dying too.”
Numerous other religious freedom experts have expressed grave alarm at Nigeria’s removal. Abraham Cooper and Frederick A. Davie, current chair and vice chair of the bipartisan USCIRF, stated, “Days before Christmas, hundreds of Christians were killed in Nigeria, along with their Pastor. This is just the latest example of deadly violence against religious communities in Nigeria that even the State Department has condemned. … USCIRF rejects the State Department’s decision to omit Nigeria … as [a] CPC.”
USCIRF, along with religious freedom advocacy group ADF International, have since called for a congressional investigation of the Biden administration’s State Department for the omission. “The United States should increase pressure on Nigeria for the blatant violations of religious freedom occurring in the country,” Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International, argued. “More Christians are being killed in Nigeria for their faith than in all other countries combined.”
Del Turco, FRC’s director of the Center for Religious Liberty, expressed further outrage at Nigeria’s absence on the CPC list.
“It is reprehensible that the State Department refused to name Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern on religious freedom,” she told The Washington Stand. “More innocent Christians are killed in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. Haw many more lives have to be lost and how much more suffering has to occur before the Biden administration will condemn religious persecution there? The failure to call Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern is dishonoring to the vulnerable Christians who are suffering there.”
Del Turco continued, “The U.S. is somewhat unique in that Congress legally established a foreign policy apparatus to advance religious freedom around the world, and that includes Country of Particular Concern designations. However, if U.S. leaders are too cowardly to add countries to the list that clearly fit the criteria, then it doesn’t do any good.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.