Smith chairs Lantos Commission hearing after latest killings, kidnappings:State Dept., humanitarian groups testify on killings in Nigeria, alleged acts by Islamist radicals
The brutal atrocities and continuing threats to Nigerian peace and stability—especially to Christians under seemingly relentless attacks by radical Islamists in Nigeria—were at the core of testimony by U.S. State Department officials and human rights organizations at a hearing today, “Conflict and Killings in Nigeria’s Middle Belt,” held by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“Our Middle Belt region has truly become a vale of tears, a region where mass burials are very common. It appears as though what is happening here is part of a grand conspiracy. Our national government has not shown convincing signs of real commitment to ending the menace,” said Bishop William A. Avenya of the Nigerian Roman Catholic Diocese of Gboko in his testimony. “The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as well as the available facts. This has inflicted deep mental, psychological, physical and economic injuries to the affected families and communities.”
Smith, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee, has chaired seven previous hearings on human rights violations in Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa.
“The largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” said Smith. “The United States and the international community must do more to mitigate the violence because the dire situation on the ground warrants it and because the people of Nigeria deserve to live in peace and freedom with their fundamental human rights guaranteed and because Nigeria is the largest country in Africa and what happens there has an outsized impact in West Africa and in Africa as a whole.” Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks.
Days ago, the kidnapping of an estimated 330 students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara recalled other notorious attacks by radical Islamists, such as the April 2014 attack, when more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted from their dormitory in Chibok. About 100 of the girls are still missing. Last month, more than three dozen peaceful demonstrators were killed by government police forces in Lagos, as reported by the media. Over the past six years, Jihadist Fulani Militant Herdsmen reportedly have accounted for 9,000 Christian deaths or 1,500 per year. Breaking news accounts of a reported release of the 330 students were greeted with hope at the hearing.
Testifying from the U.S. State Department today were lead witness Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the former Governor, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative of Kansas, along with Morse Tan, Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice, and Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
“Violence has unfolded across rural Nigeria,” said Ambassador Brownback. “We strongly condemn violence in Nigeria aimed at communities because of their faith – whether those communities are Muslim or Christian, including through attacks targeting religious gatherings. To end these cycles of violence, the Nigerian government must hold to account individuals who perpetrate such unlawful violence and human rights abuses. Failure to do contributes to an environment of escalation and dangerous volatility.” Click here to read Ambassador Brownback’s testimony.
Also testifying and/or submitting testimony were Nina Shea, Director, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom; Ann Buwalda, Executive Director, Jubilee Campaign USA; H.E. William Avenya, Bishop of Gboko, Nigeria; Jane Adolphe, Ave Maria School of Law; Udo Jude Ilo, Nigeria Country Officer, Open Society Initiative for West Africa and; Mike Jobbins, Vice President, Global Affairs and Partnerships, Search for Common Ground.
Baroness Catherine Cox, CEO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, told the commission she was encouraged that, earlier this week, the International Criminal Court called for an inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also that the U.S. State Department finally designated Nigeria as Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act. “I have had the painful privilege of visiting some of the worst affected areas and have heard directly from survivors of attacks. They have shared – with immense bravery and with tears – personal tragedies of mass slaughter, torture, amputations, rape, forced displacement and destruction of homes, churches and farmland.”
Annigje J. Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign USA, said: “Jubilee Campaign publicly calls on the Federal Republic of Nigeria to develop a comprehensive plan and/or policy to address and eradicate the violence against Nigerian Christians at the hands of Islamic jihadist members of Boko Haram and Fulani militants.” Her organization also called on the Nigerian government to publicly condemn and fully investigate all acts of violence against religious communities, and establish a timely, accurate, and up to date reporting system on incidences of violent attacks.
Smith, who has held numerous hearings on Nigerian human rights issues, decided to hold the hearing following the deadly shooting of peaceful protestors in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 20, just the latest in a series of killings and violence in Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. The mass killings and atrocities committed by Fulani extremists in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region by his Fulani kinsmen have prompted calls to put an end to the killing and depredations aimed mostly at Christian farmers. Smith also previously denounced Buhari’s assault upon the rule of law, including his dismissal of Nigeria’s chief justice in early 2019 in advance of national elections, and his replacement with a Buhari ally.