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USCIRF Letter to President Obama on Upcoming Meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan


September 23, 2013| By USCIRF

USCIRF Letter to President Obama on Upcoming Meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sent the following letter to President Obama on September 23, 2013:

The President

The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I write regarding your upcoming meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. USCIRF has reported on religious freedom conditions in Nigeria since 2004, and we remain deeply concerned about the high levels of sectarian violence and impunity for such violence in that country. 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. The Nigerian government's overreliance 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 destabilize this important ally.

In 2009, USCIRF first recommended that Nigeria be named a "country of particular concern” or CPC 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. 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 U.S. 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.

This culture of impunity has a direct correlation to the urgent matter of Boko Haram's destabilizing presence and activities in Nigeria's north and Middle Belt. Boko Haram frequently attacks churches in predominantly Christian areas in Bauchi, Jos, Kaduna, and Kano, which exacerbates already existing Muslim-Christian tensions and encourages further violence. We fully agree with Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman's recent comments in Abuja that the Nigerian government needs 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 counterterrorism strategy involving the security services. Such an approach would help Nigeria realize 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.

We stand ready to assist efforts to advance freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria.


Robert P. George


To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at (202) 523-3258 or media@uscirf.gov.