US Agency tasks Obama on Nigeria’s Sectarian Violence

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Monday sent a letter to President Barack Obama on his upcoming bilateral meeting with Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan in New York urging him to address the sectarian violence in the West African country.

A copy of the letter, signed by USCIRF Chairman, Mr. Robert George, and made available to PANA in New York, stated that, ‘the agency remains deeply concerned about the high levels of sectarian violence and impunity in Nigeria’.

‘We respectfully urge you, Mr. President, to strongly address with President Jonathan the importance of the Nigerian government arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators of sectarian violence,’ it said.

It noted that the Nigerian government’s over-reliance on the use of force to tackle communal and Boko haram violence and its failure to promote rule of law and human rights will only further destabilise this important ally.

The letter recalled that in 2009, USCIRF first recommended that Nigeria be named a country of particular concern for tolerating ongoing, egregious and systematic religious freedom violations.

‘We continue to make this recommendation. Our primary concern continues to be the Nigerian government’s failure, at all levels, to hold perpetrators of Muslim-Christian communal violence accountable, leading to a culture of impunity.

‘While other causes factor into the violence in areas of conflict, religion is a significant catalyst and is often misused by politicians, religious leaders, or others for political gain,’ the agency stated.

It said since 1999, more than 14,000 have been killed in Muslim-Christian violence, but USCIRF has confirmed only 200 persons have been found guilty for perpetrating these attacks.

‘In our recent annual report we recommended the US government enter into a binding agreement with the Nigerian government to assist it in holding perpetrators of this violence accountable, developing conflict prevention and early warning mechanisms, and professionalizing the police force to combat sectarian violence.’

It said this culture of impunity had a direct correlation to the urgent matter of Boko Haram’s destabilizing presence and activities in Nigeria’s north and Middle Belt.

It said Boko Haram frequently attacked churches in predominantly Christian areas in Bauchi, Jos, Kaduna, and Kano, which exacerbated already existing Muslim-Christian tensions and encouraged further violence.

The organisation said it fully agreed with Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman’s recent
comments in Abuja that the Nigerian government needed to include prosecution of Boko Haram members as part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle this threat to the country’s stability.

‘In USCIRF’s view, Nigeria has the capacity to address communal, sectarian and Boko Haram violence by enforcing the rule of law and making perpetrators accountable through the judicial system, and not relying solely on a counter-terrorism strategy involving the security services.

‘Such an approach would help Nigeria realise lasting progress, security, stability, and prosperity as a democracy. The United States can play an important role in encouraging and increasing the capacity of the Nigerian judiciary to undertake this kind of response,’
it stressed.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related
international instruments.

It gives independent policy recommendations to the US President, US Secretary of State, and Congress.