Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently released the State Department’s annual list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), designating countries that have “engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’” Countries on the list may face sanctions from the United States to motivate improvement. This year’s CPC list named China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Burma, Eritrea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Russia was the only new addition to the CPC list, a recommendation from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) since 2017.
One country, however, was noticeably absent from the list: Nigeria.
USCIRF had been recommending Nigeria for the CPC designation since 2009, and the country was finally named to the list in 2020 by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In its 2021 religious freedom report, USCIRF again recommended that the State Department keep Nigeria’s Country of Particular Concern designation.
Since 2009, it is estimated that over 43,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed. Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram have continually targeted many Christian homes, schools and churches over 12 years. However, in the past year, Nigeria’s religious freedom conditions have worsened even more. The first four months of 2021 saw a shocking 1,470 Christians murdered — the highest recorded number since 2014.
The State Department has offered little explanation for its decision except for stating that “Blinken, upon the advice of various department sections, decided Nigeria didn’t meet the legal threshold to be named as ‘country of particular concern,’” according to Politico.
USCIRF condemned the State Department’s decision to remove Nigeria from the CPC list: “While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”
Former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback also criticized the State Department’s decision: “This rewards the Nigerian government for tolerating severe religious freedom violations and sends a message to extremists that their actions will continue to go unpunished. People of faith in Nigeria will bear the fallout of this decision, and that’s unacceptable.”
Image: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
Photo Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain