For Christians, Nigeria long has been one of most violently abusive countries in the world. At the same time, the country persists in mistreating atheists and other religious groups as well as nonradicalized Muslims.

But Christians, in particular, continue to suffer brutal abuses, massacres, and terrorism. Genocide Watch has reported that in Nigeria, more than 6,000 Christians were killed in the 15 months from January 2021 through March 2022, and 45,644 died in the course of 13 years.

For those who are concerned about religious freedom in the world, it was a great relief when, for the first time in December 2020, the U.S. State Department—under the leadership of then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC.

The BBC reported a surge in attacks on Christian churches and believers in 2021. However, tragically and without explanation, this vital designation abruptly was removed, almost immediately after the inauguration of Joe Biden in January 2021.

And now, adding insult to injury, as of Friday—when the most recent religious freedom designations were declared—Nigeria once again was entirely ignored by Biden and company, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The delisting of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern amounts to an outrageous betrayal of an already brutalized Christian community. And it forebodes multiplied death squads, torched villages, churches and farmlands, and thousands of disabled and homeless refugees.

By definition, the State Department says, CPC-designated countries have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” during the reporting period.

The International Religious Freedom Act defines particularly severe violations of religious freedom as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”

According to Voice of America: “A report by the U.S.-based Christian persecution monitoring group Open Doors shows the number of Christians killed in 2020 increased by 60%, mostly because of Islamic violence against Nigerian Christians. The study says more than 2,200 of 4,761 Christians killed around the world in 2020 died in Nigeria because of radical Islamists.”

Voice of America also reported an estimate by the organization International Christian Concern that “50,000 to 70,000 Christians have died in violent attacks in Nigeria over 18 years, mostly carried out by Boko Haram terrorists or arms-wielding gangs.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was outraged by the State Department’s refusal to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern in 2022. In a press release Friday, the commission wrote that it “finds it inexplicable that the U.S. Department of State did not include Nigeria or India in its latest designations of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), turning a blind eye to both countries’ particularly severe religious freedom violations.”

Former Rep. Frank Wolf, a member of the commission, called Blinken’s failure to apply the label to Nigeria “sorely disappointing.” Wolf, who served for decades as a Republican member of Congress from Virginia, was the author of the 1998 bill setting up the CPC designations.

He reiterates: “Congress should exercise its oversight authority to ensure religious freedom is a policy priority in Nigeria [and] support appointing a Special Envoy for Nigeria [and the] Lake Chad Region.”

The current chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Nury Turkel, is a Uyghur Muslim refugee and human rights lawyer. Turkel bluntly declared: “There is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs.”

In 2021, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, former chair of the commission, clearly explained the significance of the designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern and its subsequent removal, writing: 

In a move that rocked the international community, the president’s State Department decided to drop Nigeria as a ‘Country of Particular Concern.’ Nigeria, where more Christians are killed than anywhere else on the face of the planet, American leaders have suddenly decided to turn their backs and walk away. Most human rights groups, religious and nonreligious, were aghast. The situation is the worst it’s ever been, and it’s deteriorating by the day. If America ignores what’s happening there, it will only excuse Nigerian leaders who do the same. International pressure is one of the only weapons the world has to stop this slow-motion war.

In short, the CPC designation makes possible the application of economic sanctions as a form of penalizing rogue regimes. So, after other noneconomic policy options—meant to end particularly severe violations of religious freedom—have reasonably been exhausted, an economic measure generally must be imposed.

Following the recent State Department decision, Perkins concluded: “To ignore the record of a government that tolerates—if not endorses—religious persecution in Nigeria and India makes it clear that religious freedom is not a priority for the Biden State Department.”

In short, this latest State Department decision regarding 2022 designations of Countries of Particular Concern is an unfathomable betrayal.

The vile human rights situation in Nigeria—despite weekly reports of killings and kidnappings aimed at Nigerian Christians, their leadership, and their churches—continues to be blatantly ignored by America’s leadership.

The Washington Stand originally published this commentary.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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