US places Nigeria on special watch list

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens on October 5, 2019. - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused members of Congress of harassing his department to obtain documents linked to an impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump. (Photo by COSTAS BALTAS / POOL / AFP)

The United State authorities Friday said it has placed Nigeria on a Special Watch List for tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom.”

Cuba and Nicaragua were also added to the list.

“No country, entity, or individual will be able to persecute people of faith with impunity,” United States’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo said. “These religious freedom designations show that when faith is attacked, we will act.”

There is no official response from the Nigerian government yet.
The West African country may be designated Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 if religious persecutions continue, the State Department said.

Although the State Department said in a statement that Nigeria is on the SWL list, a report published by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom showed the country is already classified as a CPC.

USCIRF said “continued systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief” in Nigeria should have earned the country a place on the official CPC list since 2009.

The US accused the Nigerian government of tolerating violence and discrimination based on religion or belief, and suppression of the freedom to manifest religion or belief.

It said religious sectarian violence increased in 2018, with Muslims and Christians attacked based on their religious and ethnic identity.

“The Nigerian federal government failed to implement effective strategies to prevent or stop such violence or to hold perpetrators accountable,” USCIRF said.

Legacy of intolerance
It is not the only the American government that has accused Nigeria of systemic religious intolerance and persecution.
Amnesty International earlier in December accused Nigerian troops of forcibly removing of headscarves of female members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shia group popularly in northern Nigeria. AI said the soldiers also beat and insulted the religious conservative women.

IMN Ibrahim El Zakzaky has been in detention since 2015 after a violent faceoff with troops during a religious procession in Zaria.

Amnesty said about 350 members of the group were killed in the violence and were buried in mass graves. But the official toll was far lower.
The group has had several violent clashes with Nigerian security authorities in subsequent years.
“More than 150 more IMN members were subsequently killed in Kaduna, Jos, Bauchi Sokoto, Funtua and Abuja,” Amnesty International said.

Apart from the official crackdown against the Nigerian Shiite group, USCIRF said scores of Christians and Muslims were killed in different parts of northern Nigeria, especially in Plateau State allegedly by “Muslim Youth Militia”.

Despite the damning report, USCIRF said the American government is committed to continuing its humanitarian support to Nigeria and for the fight against Boko Haram insurgency.

However, Pompeo said the United States will continue to challenge Nigeria and other entities that seek to infringe upon those fundamental rights and to ensure they are held to account for their actions.

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