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Biden admin. betrays Nigerians once again

A group of Christian Adara farmers gather at the entrance of a church after the Sunday's service at Ecwa Church, Kajuru, Kaduna State, Nigeria, on April 14, 2019. The ongoing strife between Muslim herders and Christian farmers, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives in 2018 and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, is a divisive issue for Nigeria and some other countries in West Africa.
A group of Christian Adara farmers gather at the entrance of a church after the Sunday's service at Ecwa Church, Kajuru, Kaduna State, Nigeria, on April 14, 2019. The ongoing strife between Muslim herders and Christian farmers, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives in 2018 and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, is a divisive issue for Nigeria and some other countries in West Africa. | LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden Administration has betrayed the Nigerian people once again. In what has become a regrettable annual tradition, Biden’s State Department recently rejected calls from numerous leading human rights, religious freedom, and Christian organizations to redesignate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).

The CPC list is one of the United States government’s main tools promoting global religious freedom. Any nation that engages in or allows “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom can be added to the list. The designation gives the U.S. Government the ability to leverage sanctions against offending nations.

The State Department regularly includes countries on the CPC list that are known enemies of the United States such as North Korea, Cuba, China, and Iran. There’s no risk in calling them out. But the Biden administration continuously refuses to add Nigeria and several other countries for geopolitical and economic reasons. Not only does this politicize the CPC list, if not render it meaningless, but it exposes the Administration’s inability to truly support religious freedom around the globe.

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Recommendations for which countries and bad actors should be added to the CPC list come from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressionally mandated bi-partisan body on which I serve, specifically created to monitor the right to freedom of religion abroad and make policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State and Congress. When the State Department repeatedly rejects and ignores USCIRF’s recommendations and concerns, it is failing to recognize the USCIRF’s important role.

If Nigeria doesn’t belong on the CPC, then I’m not sure who does. In 2022 alone, more than 5,000 Nigerian Christians were massacred in multiple waves of attacks, and another 1,041 were slaughtered in the first 100 days of 2023. This past Christmas, attacks on 26 Nigerian villages left nearly 200 dead with many more missing. Unbelievably, the State Department’s decision to leave Nigeria off the CPC list was made just days after these horrific attacks took place.

I recently traveled to Nigeria and met with Christians who have lost everything at the hands of Boko Haram, Fulani extremists, and other terrorists. Their family members have been killed, their homes and villages destroyed, their farms burned, and livestock stolen. The trauma and pain these survivors face are incredibly deep and painful. And yet, month after month, year after year, we allow these violent acts to continue.

And the unchecked religious violence isn’t limited to Nigeria. In India, multiple states have anti-conversion laws on the books, and religiously motivated mob violence regularly runs rampant. Since May 2023, hundreds of churches and the homes of thousands of Christians have been attacked in Manipur State, leaving more than 60,000 people displaced. India has a massive economy and is the United States’ biggest trading partner, which may explain why the Administration has ignored repeated calls to add it to the CPC list as well.

The State Department also refuses to add Vietnam to the CPC list, which USCIRF has recommended for years. Many pastors are imprisoned there, with hundreds more living under the constant threat of arrest. Regular closures of house churches, the persecution of other religious minorities, and an egregious anti-religion law should be more than enough to qualify them for the list.

Yet the State Department has willfully ignored such evidence of religious targeting and persecution.

I support congressional hearings on this matter to understand why the US government is not standing up to this genocide and plan to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how these decisions are made. We need to uncover the State Department’s rationale regarding which countries are included on the CPC list and why those that should be included continue to be left off.

Even when offending countries are added to the list, the US has never fully utilized the political and economic tools available to discipline these bad actors. At its best, the CPC is a shaming tool, with the implied, but never carried out threat of potential sanctions. But now things have gotten even worse, and the list is being ignored altogether. Geopolitics and global economics are infecting what should be a system of accountability.

The CPC issue is just the tip of the iceberg for the State Department’s lack of accountability when it comes to upholding religious freedom. The Biden Administration failed to confront Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during last summer’s meeting at the White House and instead rolled out the red carpet for him. Despite fist-bumping Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden has failed to leverage the relationship to better human and religious rights in the Middle East. Friends don’t let friends engage in religious persecution. We have an obligation to hold our supposed friends to account.

We know that religious freedom is a cornerstone of democratic values and human rights. The Biden Administration’s failure to include countries with troubling records on the CPC list vitally threatens the effectiveness of this tool when used properly.

To restore its credibility while upholding the principles of religious freedom, the State Department must reassess its criteria and ensure that the CPC list accurately reflects the harsh realities of religious minorities worldwide — whether they live in the countries of our allies or our enemies.

It’s time for the US to reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom on the global stage. Otherwise, the cries of the dying and oppressed around the world will continue to go unheard.

The views reflected here are my own views and not the views of the Commission.

Dr. David Curry is President and CEO of Global Christian Relief (GCR), America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence.

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