- Category: Reports
- Published on Thursday, 22 March 2012 07:18
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A new report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that Nigeria should be designated as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC).
In its 2012 annual report, the USCIRF - which is an independent, bipartisan US Federal Government commission with principal responsibilities to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress - premised it recommendation on the fact that over 14,000 Nigerians had been killed in religiously-related violence between Muslims and Christians since 1999.
USCIRF whose commissioners are appointed by US President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives, also noted that, "the government of Nigeria continues to fail to prevent and contain acts of religiously-related violence, prevent reprisal attacks, or bring those responsible for such violence to justice.”
Other countries recommended for CPCs' status are Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, while countries on its watchlist include Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia and Venezuela.
Nigeria which had been on USCIRF‘s Watch List since 2002, was first recommended for CPC status in 2009. Presently, 10 countries - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan - are designated as CPCs by the State Department.
The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) passed by Congress in 1998 requires that yearly, US President designate as a 'Country of Particular Concern' any country whose government had engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. That authority had however been delegated to the Secretary of State and Congress is notified of any country so designated.
According to the State Department, the implication of such designation is that where non-economic policy options designed to bring about cessation of the particularly severe violations of religious freedom had reasonably been exhausted, an economic measure generally must be imposed.
In its latest report covering April 1, 2011 to February 29, 2012, USCIRF noted over 800 people were killed, and more than 65,000 displaced, in three days of rioting in northern states following the 2011 presidential elections.
It also said Boko Haram had been emboldened by the climate of impunity and had "shifted its tactics and emphasis by targeting, killing, and bombing Christians and Christian clergy and threatening to kill all remaining Christians in the North, while continuing its attacks against government officials, as well as killing hundreds of Muslims, including Muslim religious leaders who spoke out against the group.”
Continuing, it said, "During its March trip to Abuja, USCIRF was told repeatedly by Christian leaders that they see a sectarian dimension to Boko Haram’s objectives, including the eradication of Christians in central and northern Nigeria. USCIRF also was told by a number of significant Muslim leaders that Boko Haram was un-Islamic and not a true representation of Islam.
“During its March 2012 visit to Nigeria and through its monitoring of Nigerian media outlets in the reporting period, USCIRF noted an escalation in anxiety, frustration, concern, and even militancy among mainstream religious leaders.
“USCIRF found that religious leaders were using more heated public rhetoric, issuing fewer calls for restraint, and making more calls for defensive and offensive action to counter sectarian or religiously-motivated attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram or other actors.”
Noting that the religious nature of the April 2011 post-election violence, the attacks and threats against Christians by Boko Haram, and the subsequent rise in religiously-charged rhetoric were testing Nigeria‘s young democracy and further straining Christian-Muslim relations, the report said Nigerian government must end the culture of impunity for religiously-related violence.
“In light of the scale of the violence that has occurred in recent years, the paucity of successful prosecutions is insufficient to stop the cycle of impunity. Many more prosecutions are needed, so that all parties involved in religiously-related or inter-communal violence understand that there will be penalties and they will not be allowed to commit similar crimes again,” the report said.
Noting that government reportedly made numerous arrests of suspected Boko Haram members, including a lead suspect in the Christmas 2011 bombings, it said it did not appear, however, that it was prosecuting these alleged perpetrators in a fair and open manner consistent with due process, giving the Nigerian public little confidence that justice would be served.
Recalling other incidences of sectarian or religiously-related violence, it said the Justice minister told USCIRF in January 2011 that five persons were convicted for their role in March 2010 violence in Jos and that there had been other successful prosecutions.
It however noted that though the Justice minister promised to provide USCIRF with statistics and information, by the end of the reporting period, no such information had been made available.
It added that Nigeria could muster the resources to address inter-communal violence, including religiously-related violence, and that such action was necessary for the country to realise lasting progress, security, stability, and prosperity as a democracy.
The commission said it had previously expressed concern about reports of foreign sources of funding for extremist and violent Islamist groups and activity in northern Nigeria, and had urged the Nigerian government to place a high priority on preventing the possible alignment of Nigerian extremist groups with international terrorist groups.
“Several observers have reported that financial support from Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan has been used to build mosques and Islamic religious schools in northern Nigeria that preach and teach a non-traditional and extreme interpretation of Islam", the report said, adding, "there are reports that an increasing number of Nigerian Islamic scholars and clerics are being trained in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, and return with a politico-religious ideology that explicitly promotes hatred of, and violence against, non-Muslims.”
The report urged US to press the Nigerian government to take substantial steps to address religious freedom violations, including bringing perpetrators of sectarian violence to justice and resolving jurisdictional disputes between federal and state officials that thwart prosecutions, adding: “These issues should also be made an essential part of bilateral relations, including as a component of the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission.” (ThisDay)