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US religious freedom report criticised for minimising Christian persecution in Nigeria

by Heather Preston

A Christian advocacy group claims a US report on international religious freedom ignores the documented persecution of Christians in Nigeria at the hands of Fulani - painting the ethnic group as the victims.

In an updated April report the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlighted abuse against Fulani Muslims in West and Central Africa.

It says that as militant Islamist activity has increased in the country, Christian communities have equated Fulani Muslim civilians with more extremist groups, making them a seemingly “legitimate target for violence and human rights abuses.”

The report continues to say that these abuses have led “some members of Fulani communities to arm themselves and conduct reprisal attacks based on ethno-religious identity,” leading to Christian communities across Nigeria being “threatened by deadly attacks from vengeful assailants seeking retribution for grievances against Fulani Muslim civilians.”

An alleged incident in which members of local Christian militias killed five Fulani Muslim civilians in northcentral Nigeria is cited in the report as being the catalyst for an attack on a local Christian village in which 18 people were killed “in retaliation”.

“In this way, attacks on Fulani Muslim civilians have also led to religious violence against Christians, impacting religious freedom rights for multiple faith communities. Christian communities across Nigeria are threatened by deadly attacks from vengeful assailants seeking retribution for grievances against Fulani Muslim civilians,” it reads.

Christian advocacy group ADF International have raised concern over these claims, saying that numerous attacks attributed to Fulani against Christians in the country are retaliatory.

ADF International spokesperson Sean Nelson told CNA the USCIRF report “fails to explain the broader context of religiously motivated violence against Christians, where they are suffering thousands of deaths every year because of their faith.”

Nelson says the report is “needlessly polarizing” and suggests that USCIRF consider a retraction.

“It is vital that the international religious freedom community is able to come together to advocate for those in Nigeria who have been so regularly and grievously victimized.”

The USCIRF’s 2023 report raises concerns over the treatment of Christians in the country stating that “Rampant violence and atrocities across Nigeria continued to impact freedom of religion or belief, including militant Islamist violence; some forms of identity-based violence; mob violence; and criminal, political, and vigilante violence impacting worship.

“The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed several attacks against Christian communities, including allegedly killing 40 people in an attack on a Catholic Church in Ondo State during Pentecost Sunday services and bombing a market in Borno State that sold alcohol.”

The US Government has been recommended to designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.

The USCIRF has also called for the appointment of a Special Envoy for Nigeria to address religious freedom violations and atrocity risk.


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