WASHINGTON (BP)–The Nigerian government should “launch an immediate and independent investigation of the clashes that broke out between Muslims and Christians following local elections and to prosecute those found to be perpetrators,” according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The U.S. government should press Nigeria to launch the inquiry into the violence, largely centered in Jos, a city in central Nigeria, USCIRF said in a Dec. 3 news release.
“Without a swift, firm government declaration to demand an end to such violence and actions to investigate and implement preventive measures to head off such unrest in the future, Nigerians will remain vulnerable to more deadly conflict,” Felice D. Gaer, USCIRF chair, said in the news release.
News agencies report more than 300 people killed and thousands injured in fires and riots that began Nov. 28 and eased Dec. 2. Dozens of churches, mosques, businesses and homes were burned in Jos, which is located between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north. An estimated 10,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
A Baptist Press query to USCIRF was not answered by deadline on Dec. 5 as to whether the Nigerian government had signaled any plans for action.
Since 2002, Nigeria has been on USCIRF’s “Watch List,” a group of countries that merit close monitoring because of a significant pattern of restrictions on religious freedom.
USCIRF noted, “Since 1999, more than 10,000 Nigerians reportedly have been killed in sectarian and communal attacks and reprisals between Muslims and Christians. The response of the government to such violence, particularly bringing perpetrators to justice, continues to remain inadequate.
“The number of deaths resulting from sectarian violence reportedly had decreased over the past few years, due in part to a more rapid and effective response by Nigerian security forces,” USCIRF acknowledged, “but the latest outbreak has reversed that trend.
“There have been disturbing reports,” USCIRF noted, “of foreign Islamic extremists, particularly from neighboring Niger and Chad, participating in the violence in Jos, which is consistent with the reports of foreign sources of funding and support for Islamic extremist activities in northern Nigeria. Many Muslims and Christians have been identified as perpetrators of violence in past years, but very few, if any, have been prosecuted.”
Gaer said USCIRF “has long called for expanded U.S. support for “communal conflict prevention and mitigation in Nigeria. The first steps, though, must come from the Nigerian government, which is obligated to restore respect for religious freedom and associated rights and to punish perpetrators of extremist activity.”
Nigeria is one of seven countries on USCIRF’s Watch List; 11 others are listed as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, for “ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” according to the agency’s website. Watch List countries are those “where religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level requiring CPC designation but which require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.”
The commission was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to make recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress regarding the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.