US State Department Ignores Express Warnings of Pending Genocide in Nigeria, Obfuscates Reasons for Removing Status as Country That Persecutes Christians
Christian persecution is out of control in Nigeria, and we are working hard to get the Biden Administration and the world to recognize the plight of Nigerian Christians. We have an important update about our ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for their abominable decision to remove Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). H. Res. 82, a bipartisan resolution introduced in Congress earlier this year, acknowledges that Nigeria’s ongoing anti-Christian violence has spiraled out of control. Among other things, H. Res. 82 expresses the “sense of Congress” that Nigeria should be designated as a CPC for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” While the resolution has not yet received a vote in the House, this congressional acknowledgment is a refreshing development in stark contrast to the Biden Administration’s active disregard of international Christian persecution in Nigeria.
Despite being designated as a CPC in 2020 by our very own Senior Counsel for Global Affairs and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo due to ongoing religious freedom violations, Nigeria was removed from the CPC persecution watchlist by the Biden Administration in 2021 and remains absent today. In fact, Nigeria was conspicuously delisted ONE DAY before Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended Nigeria’s inclusion on the 2022 CPC list, calling the delisting decision “inexplicable” and “turning a blind eye” to Nigeria’s “particularly severe religious freedom violations.” Other groups agree with USCIRF’s assessment, including an Open Doors report noting that nearly 90% of the total number of Christians killed worldwide – and about 90% of kidnappings carried out against Christians in 2022 – occurred in Nigeria.
Our FOIA identifies other egregious violations of religious freedom in Nigeria, including by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group affiliated with ISIS that regularly commits atrocities against Christians with impunity. ISIS extremists also videotaped the brutal murder of a group of approximately 20 Christians in May 2022, among a variety of frequent incidents. Any presidential Administration legitimately concerned about persecuted Christians and international religious freedom would demand fundamental changes and extract important policy concessions from Nigeria as part of the diplomatic process. Instead, the Biden Administration has proven all too willing to sacrifice the rights of Christians and other persecuted religious minorities for unspecified reasons. While our FOIA seeks to uncover the reasons for the State Department’s decision, the heavily redacted emails we received from our FOIA lawsuit have instead attempted to obfuscate transparency.
In the most recent batch of emails provided by the State Department in response to our FOIA lawsuit, it is revealed that the Biden Deep State regularly shared articles and summarized briefings about Nigeria, including information about the ongoing and systematic persecution of Christians there. An email dated November 1, 2021 – almost two weeks before Nigeria was delisted – describes a meeting in which a speaker “shared anecdotes of encounters with Christian communities in Nigeria” and “described the horrific violence [the Christian] interlocutors had endured.” The speaker additionally “noted his concerns that the Nigerian government is aware and tolerating the violence, and sometimes complicit” and “called on the United States . . . to take action to stop the massacres, and prevent genocide, which he believes is close.”
Another email dated approximately two weeks after the delisting details a call with a retired pastor involved in Christian missions in Nigeria describing “first-hand information of attacks/violence by Jihadists on Christian Churches in Nigeria.” The summary further states that “in some areas of Nigeria the Jihadists are warning the Christians not to worship between now (early December) through Christmas.” The email also explicitly states that the pastor found it worrisome that the U.S. State Department removed Nigeria from the CPC watchlist. These emails represent a few of many such instances in which State Department staff were informed of the ongoing violations of religious liberty and the high incidence of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria. Despite full knowledge of the situation, the State Department refused to acknowledge the gravity of the problem and instead persisted in the error of their delisting.
On December 1, 2021, an email from Molly C. Phee, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, notes that she briefed the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa. However, the portion of the email text presumably indicating the specific content of the briefing is all redacted as “(b)(5),” indicating that it is protected under the “deliberative process privilege” (DPP) exemption. While DPP is important to allow free discussions of policy options and ideas or to shield draft documents from release, government agencies can abuse it to protect records that may reveal problems or contain embarrassing information. However, the ACLJ is aware of DPP’s overuse and is knowledgeable in the legal and political avenues available to fight the intentional and wrongful application of this exemption. Although the Biden Administration may be engaging in purposeful obfuscation to protect damaging information, we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we will continue fighting until we achieve government accountability and transparency on this matter.
Acting as soon as possible to reclassify Nigeria as a CPC is critical. As the Biden Administration continues denying the evidence and obstructing our investigation, Christian persecution in Nigeria is accelerating. A June 2022 internal State Department email shared this news article that extensively quotes Nina Shea, a human rights lawyer who specializes in religious freedom:
“[W]ar-like attacks on Catholics and other Christians are spreading in a system of impunity. . . . The Buhari government has allowed this to continue unabated and fails to protect Nigeria’s churches. The governmental passivity is being seen as a green light for extremists to target Christians. . . . Kidnappings and murders of priests and pastors, enslavement of Christian girls, and mob lynchings for alleged blasphemy against Islam” have intensified since the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the United States’ “Country of Concern” (CPC) list of countries where egregious religious persecution is taking place. . . . “Innocent, defenseless religious people are being slaughtered en masse in an aggressive onslaught even in areas . . . where peaceful conditions formerly prevailed.”
These concerns are further corroborated by a letter from five U.S. Senators describing high-profile acts of violence, including a Christian student stoned by Islamist students for expressing her Christian faith. Unfortunately, the Biden Administration has similarly refused to answer the Senators’ questions about Nigeria’s delisting and persists in allowing this unconscionable and widespread persecution of Christians to continue.
While the ultimate motivations of the Biden Administration’s willingness to abandon Nigerian Christians and other religious minorities are not yet fully known, each tranche of emails and documents we examine brings us closer to the truth. Rest assured, we will not stop fighting until all potential paths are exhausted, and the Biden Administration’s ultimate motivation for their wrongheaded approach to Nigeria is revealed. We will never stop fighting to end Christian persecution across the world.