U.S. Takes Nigeria off Religious Violators Watch List

The U.S. Department of State on Wednesday announced its list of designations for state and non-state religious freedom violators, according to a press statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The most severe category of designation called the “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC)” list, includes countries that have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” This year, Secretary Blinken announced that he would include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the CPC list.

Notably missing from this list is Nigeria, a country that the State Department had named as a CPC in previous years for the ongoing crisis facing Christians from Fulani militants and Boko Haram. As the situation in Nigeria continues to worsen for the country’s Christian community, this omission comes as a surprise to human rights organizations following the crisis.

In 2020, the US placed Nigeria and six other countries on its special watch list of states that had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedom, however, the nation was exempted in the 2021 list.

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Blinken’s statement which was titled, ‘Religious Freedom Designations’, also disclosed that Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua have all been placed on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”

In a similar vein, the US also designated Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.

The US Secretary of State, in his statement, said, “The United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country.

“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.

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“This Administration is committed to supporting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief, including by confronting and combating violators and abusers of this human right”.

He added that “the challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country. They demand sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo. They require the international community’s urgent attention.

“We will continue to press all governments to remedy shortcomings in their laws and practices and to promote accountability for those responsible for abuses.

“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and members of religious communities to advance religious freedom around the world and address the plight of individuals and communities facing abuse, harassment, and discrimination on account of what they believe, or what they do not believe”.

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Wednesday’s development comes as a plus ahead of Blinken’s scheduled visit to Nigeria within the week.

The US Secretary of State, who is currently in Kenya on an official visit, is expected to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari and other members of his administration.

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