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09/09/2022 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Earlier this week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its latest report on the state of religious freedom in Nigeria. USCIRF has called attention to the situation in Nigeria for years and sent a delegation to visit the country in June.

In the recent report, USCIRF focused on the rise of nonstate violence and its impact on religious freedom. “This violence has yielded devastating humanitarian and human rights consequences,” USCIRF said, “including but not limited to violence based on religion and other violations of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of  religion or belief.”

While nonstate actors are the most visible part of the issue, the USCIRF report emphasized the role of the Nigerian government in driving and aggravating the violence. “Numerous analyses and policy reports corroborate that poor governance is one of the main drivers of violent conflict throughout the country,” said USCIRF. “Inadequate justice sector capacity and performance has reinforced a culture of impunity, exacerbating the violence economy.”

The USCIRF report concludes with a number of recommendations, including that the State Department designate Nigeria as a  Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” as laid out in the International Religious Freedom Act that created USCIRF and State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. This designation is required for countries that engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom and is widely regarded as a key diplomatic tool for advancing religious freedom around the world.

In the fourteen years that USCIRF has recommended Nigeria be designated as a CPC, the Department of State has only accepted its recommendation a single time, in 2020. Nigeria was subsequently taken off the CPC list in 2021—an unprecedented move that drew widespread criticism from human rights groups and USCIRF.

USCIRF called the 2021 delisting “unexplainable” in a strongly worded press release, saying it was appalled and “displeased with the removal of Nigeria from [State’s] CPC designation.” ICC and other human rights watchdogs joined USCIRF in expressing this sentiment. ICC and a coalition of NGOs worked with Congress to request an explanation from State for taking Nigeria off the CPC list.

Religious freedom conditions have not improved in Nigeria since it was added to the CPC list, according to USCIRF and other observers like ICC—a requirement under the law.

“Furthermore,” USCIRF said in its most recent annual report, “the State Department completely bypassed downgrading the country to the SWL, indicating that Nigeria is a country with no severe religious freedom violations as defined by IRFA.”

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