The ongoing killings and rape of Christian men, women and children in Nigeria at the hands of Fulani herdsmen deserve to be called "ethnic cleansing," two prominent persecution watchdog groups argue.
The report, compiled by Open Doors International and Voice of the Martyrs Canada and released earlier in November, listed the increasingly violent crimes against Christians by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria's central state of Benue, including gang rapes of girls and torture of boys.
One table in the report detailed the extremely disturbing attacks carried out specifically against Christian children in the past few years. In one instance in August 2015, a 13-year-old girl is said to have been gang raped and abandoned in the bush for hours before a local vigilante group rescued her.
Another account states that a 10-year-old boy was captured and tortured in September 2016, where he was "whipped severely with different sizes of cane and was abandoned in a shallow pit," before being discovered and rushed to a clinic.
Witnesses to the violence have revealed that the Muslim herdsmen have abducted, raped, and carried out other forms of assault on women and children. Other eyewitnesses claimed that the herdsmen once disemboweled a pregnant woman to make sure that both she and her baby were killed.
"On the few occasions, when men are captured, it has been reported that their limbs are cut off and they are then shot in the presence of their family. Sometimes, the family members are made to run and are then shot at; those lucky enough to escape the bullets are pursued," the report explained.
The authors of the report insisted that the data gathered "gives clear indications of ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation."
"That this should be taken seriously can be seen in the threats made public in October 2017," they added, pointing to Fulani promises to "defend their rights and lifestyle" after Nigeria recently passed an anti-grazing law.
The report continued, "The current atmosphere suggests that the indications of ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation are likely to become increasingly evident through further attacks targeting Christian communities."
There have been several violent waves against believers carried out by the Islamic herdsmen this past year, including one nine-day period in October where 48 Christians were massacred.
The herdsmen reportedly broke through doors and destroyed churches and houses as they sought to kill more believers.
"These attacks are being carried out daily. Every blessed day we witness the invasion, killing of our people, and the destruction of their houses," said Moses Tsohu, a Zanwrua village leader and member of the Evangelical Church Winning All, at the time.
The report explained that Benue is largely a Christian state and serves as a buffer between the Muslim majority north and Christian majority south.
Christians have found themselves targeted because they are in the way of Fulani grazing routes. The watchdog groups noted that the Muslim herdsmen have a specific desire to dominate Christian territories.
While the report pointed out that there are complex socio-political factors also behind the conflict, the persecution of Christians at the hands of the herdsmen cannot be ignored.
"This position is substantiated by different sets of data collected, namely on the killing of Christians, on the destruction of their properties, on the burning of churches, and on gender-based atrocities against Christian women and children that has left so many traumatized," it described.
The watchdog groups called on both state and the federal governments to recognize that "the Islamic agenda" is at the root of the violence, and said that strategies to counter extremism need to be set in motion.
"The governments should promote the principle of unity of the Nigerian Republic and avoid promoting the supremacy of one religion (i.e. Islam) over and above other religions. Again, the relevant institutions must promote the rule of law," the groups declared in their conclusion.
"All incidents where Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen have carried out atrocities against indigenous Christian communities must be investigated and prosecutions made. The culture of impunity must be brought to an end."