CSW is disappointed at the United States (US) State Department’s decision to omit India, Nigeria and several other states in which the situation of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains under serious threat from its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list.
Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, the State Department is required to review the situation of FoRB in every country around the world, and designate those in which the government has engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” as CPCs.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be designated a CPC every year since 2020, but this has yet to be actioned by the State Department. The failure to designate India a CPC ignores a notable increase in hostility towards religious minorities under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promotes a Hindu nationalist agenda, emboldening extremists while remaining largely silent on hate campaigns, threats, violence and attacks against religious minorities.
Christians located in rural India are witnessing frequent coordinated assaults and harassment by Hindu fundamentalist groups. The United Christian Forum (UCF) recorded 292 incidents of targeted violence against Christians in 2018 as opposed to 511 as of 21 November 2022, which is a rise of approximately 75% in four years. Additionally, a growing number of states have passed anti-conversion laws which continue to be used with impunity against religious minorities.
The BJP has also promoted contentious policies targeting the Muslim population, limiting their right to religious expression, and widespread hate speech, including calls for mass murder of Muslims, business boycotts and lynchings. In June 2022, Secretary Blinken acknowledged the rising attacks in the country.
Nigeria was removed from the CPC list in November 2021, after having been added for the first time in 2020. In the year since the country was removed CSW has continued to receive near daily reports of egregious religion-related violence by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram terrorists in the north-east, and assailants of Fulani origin, several of whom are now allied with terrorist groups and who the Nigerian government has since designated as terrorists, in central and north-western states. There are also ongoing historic violations targeting Christian communities in the country’s Shari’a states.
The nation also witnessed the first terrorist attack on a church in southern Nigeria, a series of extrajudicial killings following unproven blasphemy accusations, including that of student Deborah Emmanuel; Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, received an excessive 24-year sentence, ostensibly for ‘causing a public disturbance’, and in a contentious split decision in the case of singer Yahaya Aminu Sharif the Kano state Court of Appeal effectively challenged the supremacy of the federal constitution by upholding both the legality of the Kano state Shari’a Penal Code, and the decision by a lower court to quash his death sentence due to irregularities, but order a retrial rather than discharging and acquitting him.
In response to the publication of the State Department’s list, USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel said: ‘There is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs. … The State Department’s own reporting includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India.’
In recognition of the concerning deterioration of the situation of FoRB in Cuba and Nicaragua, the State Department added both countries to its CPC list, having previously placed them on the Special Watch List. Algeria, Vietnam and the Central African Republic (CAR) were placed on the Special Watch List, while the Wagner Group was designated an Entity of Particular Concern based on its activities in CAR.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘CSW is pleased by the recognition of the severity of the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba and Nicaragua, and the acknowledgment of the deteriorating conditions in Algeria, Vietnam and CAR, including the appalling violations committed with impunity by the Wagner Group. However, we are deeply disappointed that the State Department failed once again to draw similar conclusions regarding India and Nigeria. The governments of both countries fail continually and manifestly to protect vulnerable religious or belief communities, and in both cases are responsible for emboldening perpetrators of religion-related violence, either through inaction or intolerant rhetoric. The failure to designate India and Nigeria as CPCs is all the more perplexing given Secretary Blinken’s assertion that “countries that effectively safeguard [freedom of religion or belief] and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not.” We therefore appeal to the Secretary of State to review the situation of freedom of religion or belief in these countries as a matter of urgency, ensuring that economic and geopolitical gains are not prioritised over the rights, freedoms and lives of individuals and religious communities.’