The Trump administration for the first time on Monday designated Nigeria as a country of particular concern (CPC) for violations of religious freedom, one of 10 highlighted by the State Department for failing to stem the persecution and discrimination of faith groups.
Nigeria is the first democracy to be labeled a CPC for “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom, a designation that opens it up to economic sanctions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the West African nation and nine others were being singled out “for engaging in or tolerating ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.’ ”
“The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The designation was welcomed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal entity that has recommended Nigeria’s inclusion on the CPC list since 2009, including in its most recent report released in April.
“Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria remained poor in 2019, with both state- and societally perpetrated violations,” USCRIF wrote in its 2020 report, highlighting widespread security issues contributing to both Christian and Muslim populations being open to attacks of intercommunal and militia violence.
“The Nigerian government failed to effectively improve justice and security for its citizens, and was unsuccessful in addressing the immense need for accountability and reconciliation around past conflict,” it wrote.
The State Department renewed the CPC designations for Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
USCRIF had also recommended that the State Department designate as CPCs India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam – but only Russia was highlighted by the agency, retaining its status on the special watch list, a designation for “severe” violations of religious freedom.
The countries of Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua were also added to the special watch list.
The State Department also listed several non-state militarized groups as “entities of particular concern,” including the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban.
The State Department removed Sudan and Uzbekistan from its special watch list, with Pompeo saying the two countries had made “significant, concrete progress” by their governments in forms of their laws and practices that promoted religious freedom. The Trump administration last month also started the process of removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.