A coalition of international religious freedom experts is urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to testify before a congressional hearing regarding the exclusion of Nigeria and India from a list of nations with severe violations of religious freedom. The group, comprising more than 40 religious freedom experts and organizations, sent a letter on Wednesday, expressing concern over the omission of these countries despite alarming instances of religious violence and persecution.
The letter, initially obtained by The Daily Signal, emphasizes the urgent need for accountability and transparency in the decision-making process. The experts cited significant data, stating that since 2009, over 50,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria, with 18,000 churches and 2,500 Christian schools attacked. In the case of India, they reported that between May of the previous year and the present, 200 to 400 churches and 3,500 Christian homes have been targeted.
In the letter, the religious freedom advocates declared their support for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and its call for a congressional hearing into the State Department’s exclusion of Nigeria and India from the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list.
“Nigeria and India have been rocked by alarming instances of religious violence and persecution,” the letter states. “Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act, both countries meet the statutory definition of ‘engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ to be designated as CPC. They should be designated as such.”
The designation of a “Country of Particular Concern” is made by the secretary of state if a nation is found to be involved in severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. Under the administration of former President Donald Trump, Nigeria was designated as a CPC, but the Biden administration subsequently removed that designation, and the reasons for this decision remain unclear.
The experts stress the importance of the United States taking an active role in addressing these issues and ensuring that the principles of religious freedom are upheld globally. They call for hearings by both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to thoroughly examine the rationale behind excluding Nigeria and India from the CPC list.
“Accountability and transparency are essential to understanding the State Department’s rationale for declining to designate Nigeria and India as CPCs,” the letter continues. “We urge the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to convene hearings to thoroughly examine the reasons behind the exclusion of Nigeria and India from the CPC list. Secretary of State Antony Blinken must answer to Congress and the American people.”
Prominent signatories of the letter include McKenna Wendt from the International Christian Concern, former Representatives Frank Wolf of Virginia and Dan Burton of Indiana, Nadine Maenza, President of the International Religious Freedom Secretariat, Lela Gilbert from the Family Research Council, and William Murray, Chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, among others.
Despite the request for comment, the State Department has not responded to inquiries from The Daily Signal at this time. The urgency and gravity of the situation, as highlighted by the religious freedom experts, underscore the need for a thorough examination of the decision-making process and a clear understanding of why Nigeria and India were excluded from the CPC list.