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US Congressman, rights lawyer bast Nigeria, criticise neglect of herdsmen atrocities

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US Congressman, Chris Smith and International Human Rights Lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe commend Commission’s report on Nigeria, critique neglect of herdsmen atrocities

Below are two statements on the 2020 USCIRF report of religious freedom:

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Rep. Smith Welcomes Religious Freedom Report, Laments Ongoing Persecution

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and author of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (P.L. 114-381), today released the following statement in response to the April 28 launch of the 21st annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the state of religious liberty around the world:

“I commend USCIRF for taking on the worst violators of religious freedom around the world, and for issuing a hard-hitting annual report. In particular, I welcome their recommendation that the State Department designate five additional nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) due to their systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom–including India, Nigeria and Vietnam–and I urge Secretary Mike Pompeo to follow USCIRF’s lead by adding them to the State Department’s list of CPCs.

“I am particularly concerned at the deteriorating situation in Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari, who has failed to protect all Nigerian citizens equally. Indeed, the Buhari Administration’s response to repeated attacks upon Christian farmers in the Middle Belt by Fulani herdsmen ranges from indifference to active acquiescence. The herdsmen–and it seems, people at the highest levels of the Buhari Administration–appear driven by ethnic and religious supremacism.

“I thus reiterate the call I previously made for the State Department to monitor the words and actions of Miyetti Allah, an organization which represents the Fulani herdsmen. I also call upon Fulani leaders–including President Buhari and the Sultan of Sokoto–to unequivocally use their authority to stop these attacks.

“If anything, the USCIRF report–which focuses on the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, as well as government repression of Shia Muslims–should have focused more attention to acts of terror carried out by Fulani herdsmen.

“USCIRF rightfully calls out the increasing intolerance towards religious minorities–especially Muslims–in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP government. By turning its back on its secular constitution, India is starting to mirror Pakistan, which routinely discriminates against Hindus, Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, who are deemed heretical.

“I further note with cautious optimism that USCIRF has flagged a number of nations where religious freedom is improving, and I pray that the trend in countries such as Sudan, Uzbekistan and the Central African Republic continues. However, while two steps forward and one step back is better than one step forward and two steps back, the backwards steps still need to be addressed.

“Thus, while we can rightfully cheer the progress Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is trying to achieve in Sudan, so long as serial human rights abusers such as Hemeti and al Burhan–the Butchers of Darfur–remain in perches of power and influence, we need to be vigilant as to any backsliding.

“The behavior of the Xi Jinping’s China is extremely disturbing because it marries up ruthless, systematic persecution of religious minorities–Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghur Muslims, underground Christians–with high-tech efficiency. USCIRF also notes that China is exporting its surveillance technology–and its malign influence–to other countries.

“The issuance of the USCIRF report is an occasion for all of us to reflect on the innate dignity of the individual. All governments–including our own–must recognize the primacy of what George Washington named ‘the little spark of celestial fire called conscience,’ and preserve and protect religious liberty.”

USCIRF’s 2020 report lauded though slanted – human rights lawyer Ogebe

We wish to note our concerns that once again the report was slanted to give the impression that Christians suffered less at the hands of terrorists than Muslims with reported attacks on churches by terrorists either not mentioned at all while mosques were mentioned or more mosques listed and a solitary church stated where mentioned at all.

Churches not included as victims of Boko Haram insurgency but mosques were even though Christians are the primary target. Per the report “The terrorist groups tar- geted security forces more than in any previous year. Although Haram successfully targeted military posts and convoys, houses, farmlands, and mosques; abducted civilians; and killed hostages, including numerous humanitarian aid workers. Since 2009, Boko Haram has displaced more than two million people and killed tens of thousands.” USCIRF failed to acknowledge attacks on churches by the terrorists.

Christians not acknowledged as victims of terrorism. The bizarre non-acknowledgement of church attacks as highlighted above is deepened by the preceding sentence, to wit, “During the week of Christmas, ISIS-West Africa released a video showing the horrific killing of 11 captives and stated it was executing Christians in retaliation for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.” USCIRF failed to explicitly acknowledge that Christians were executed on Christmas Day referring rather to “captives” and then only quoted the terrorists as targeting Christians for the specific reprisal for ISIS leader’s killing by the US. Then despite saying this, USCIRF did not list any Christian targets but quite on the contrary argues that the military were more targeted despite Boko Haram’s clear claims.The report omitted specific mention of the horrific and widespread atrocities of the killer Fulani Muslim herdsmen and merely referred once to “communal and ethnic militia attacks” between the Adara and Fulani communities in Kaduna.

Rather the report broadly stated that “The widespread security issues of intercommunal and militia violence, rampant kidnapping, and general criminality also negatively impacted religious freedom. There were multiple reports of criminal attacks on religious and traditional leaders and houses of worship. In the surge of hundreds of kidnappings in 2019, media reported numer- ous incidents of kidnappings for ransom and the killing of Protestant and Catholic priests, including in Enugu, Ondo, and Kaduna states.” Again this did not identify the parties who are the predominant victims and the parties who are the predominant perpetrators not the fact that these attacks were not merely criminal but underpinned by religious targeting. For instance, it is largely Christians being abducted by largely Muslims whereas there is no similar systematized syndication of Christians abducting Muslims.

The report recharacterized or mischaracterized the religious nature of the violence when it said “There was less reporting of religious-based targeting in intercommu- nal violence in the Middle Belt region as compared to 2018; however, there continued to be reports of communal or ethnic militia attacks on entire communities, such as in Kaduna between Christian Adara and Muslim Fulani groups, in Zamfara, and in Taraba.” It is to be stated that while the comparative numbers of persons killed by Fulani herdsmen may have reduced in 2019 compared to 2018 probably due to its being an election, numerous killings still occurred in over a dozen Nigerian states beyond the three cited.

The report did not acknowledge the several cases of Christian judges denied promotions on religious grounds by states and the notorious case of the Christian Chief Justice forced out and replaced by a Sharia judge by the Federal government in clear religious discrimination itself. It merely stated “The Nigerian government failed to effectively improve justice and security for its citizens, and was unsuccessful in addressing the immense need for accountability and reconciliation around past conflict.” The government actually incited disunity and religious tension and discord by its actions.

The report failed to acknowledge the negative impact of sharia on Christians such as destruction of alcohol and arrests by the religious police, restrictions on public transportation etc. It merely stated thus, “This report and others revealed ongoing social and institutional bias against religious minorities such as Shi’a and societal taboos against atheism and humanism.”

In discounting the horrific atrocities of the jihadi Fulani killer herdsman, the report reiterated a discredited narrative of “resource conflict” instead of “religious conquest.” “Intercommunal conflict continues to affect many states, in particular rural areas, and is related to competition over land and water resources, the expansion of farming, growth in population, the spread of small arms, religious and historical grievances, and citizenship policies. As ethnic and religious identity are closely intertwined, conflict between two ethnic groups can sometimes be framed as being between religious groups or can lead to reprisals that target individuals based on their religion.” The fact is not conflict between two ethnic groups but rather specifically Muslim herdsmen in one Ethnic group the Fulani are in conflict with over 200 ethnic groups across half of Nigeria’s states by invading, targeting and killing predominantly Christians in their homes.

The report did not acknowledge the prominent cases of two Christians unjustly detained by the authorities over conversion to Christianity in Lagos and over alleged conversion of children in Kano. Rather it solely reported thus “In 2019, the Nigerian federal government continued to detain the leader of the IMN, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky, despite a 2016 court order demanding his release.”

The report minimized the impact of terrorism on Christians stating Boko Haram “were responsible for attacks against houses of worship, civilians, and military targets. The group again targeted members of the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), abducting EYN members and destroying an EYN church in March. Media reported incidents of suspected Boko Haram members attacking mosques in Maiduguri, including in February and June.” The clear impression given is that only church and one denomination was attacked but that numerous mosques were attacked. USCIRF has never reported that the EYN church is a US-affiliated denomination has lost over 10,000 members to Boko Haram – the highest martyrdom of any church in the world today.

Worse still, no single attack by Muslims on churches was reported. All incidents cited conveniently named “Christians” attacking mosques and even Biafra separatists attacking a church but not Muslim attacks on churches. “armed groups and mobs also attacked churches and mosques throughout the country. In June, officials arrested three suspects for attempting to burn the St. Augustine Catholic Church in Kaduna. In September, a group of Christian youths reportedly attacked a mosque in Delta State out of anger over its construction. In October, a gang was accused of attacking a mosque and injuring some members. In Anambra State in May, media reported that members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB)—a group seeking Biafran independence—attacked five Christians, including a priest, for hold- ing a mass in defiance of IPOB orders to stay at home.” The attempted attack on a church was conveniently by “suspects” but the attack on the mosque was by “Christian youths”. In addition a mystery mosque attack with injuries was cited without a location. No mention was made of attempts to demolish a church by Kaduna state government.

The report mentioned “programming funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) focused on managing conflict between farmers and herders. U.S. officials consistently engaged with the Nigerian government and civil society on religious freedom issues.”

On the whole, the minority report was much more forthright than the main report and we shall provide additional facts so the State Department will designate Nigeria this year as a top religious freedom violator with the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) designation. We align ourselves with the minority report of COMMISSIONERS GARY L. BAUER AND JOHNNIE MOORE that the USCIRF report “under-emphasizes the systematic, ongoing and egregious attacks against the Christian communities in the north and central parts of Nigeria….

Finally, it is our conviction that Boko Haram, and those tribes- men inspired by them, intend on ethnically cleansing Nigeria of any Christian it cannot subjugate while threatening everyone that stands in their way, whatever their religion or ethnicity.”

The systematic, ongoing, egregious killings and ethnic and religious cleansing of Christians in Nigeria were not reflected in the full two-page USCIRF report but were succinctly and aptly captured in the two paragraphs of the minority report.

Emmanuel Ogebe

US NIGERIA LAW GROUP

WASHINGTON

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