The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has reinstated its recommendation that Nigeria be labelled “a country of particular concern”, a designation by the United States Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 (H.R. 2431) and its amendment of 1999 (Public Law 106-55).
In a statement in Washington D.C. Monday, USCIR said President Goodluck Jonathan-led Nigeria deserved that designation giving its failure to hold accountable perpetrators of religiously-related violence.
“The Nigerian government’s failure to prosecute perpetrators of religiously-related violence only encourages reprisals and intensifies local tensions and mistrust. Boko Haram uses this impunity as a recruitment tool and to justify its attacks on Christians,” said USCIR chair Katrina Lantos Swett.
She added, “USCIRF has recommended since 2009 that Nigeria be named a “country of particular concern” (CPC) due to the government’s failure to hold accountable perpetrators of religiously-related violence. While since 1999 more than 14,000 persons, both Muslims and Christians, have been killed, USCIRF has been able to document that only 1% of the perpetrators have been prosecuted.”
The commission said its tally showed that the ongoing attacks and retaliations by Muslims and Christians in Nigeria’s religiously and ethnically mixed Middle Belt had left more than 100 dead and dozens of properties destroyed since March of this year.
“This recent Muslim-Christian violence in Plateau State exposes the Nigerian government’s failure to effectively deal with a history of religiously-related violence that threatens the country’s stability,” Ms Lantos Swett said. “Religiously-related violence has led to more deaths in northern Nigeria than have Boko Haram attacks. The Nigerian government needs to end this entrenched violence and the culture of impunity.”
USCIRF recalled that the most recent round of fighting started on March 20-21 when armed men opened fire on Ratas village while villagers slept, killing 19.
This violence, it said, has since led to Christian and Muslim reprisal attacks throughout Plateau State and even Kaduna State, including an Easter weekend assault that left an estimated 80 dead.
In 2012, Boko Haram, an extremist and violent group, attacked churches, security installations and government buildings in cities with a history of religious-related violence, destabilizing Nigeria in the process.
The group noted that Boko Haram had killed more Muslims than Christians over the past few years in the guise of retaliating Christian attacks on Muslims.