President Joe Biden is facing harsh criticism for his administration’s apparent decision to remove Nigeria from an annual list of Countries of Particular Concern.
According to reports, the backlash came after observers noticed that the nation was not listed among other nations accused of violating their citizens’ religious freedoms.
“The noble and necessary fight to protect victims”
A 1998 law requires the president to compile the annual list to reflect governments with “particularly severe violations of religious freedoms.”
Critics say Nigeria should have been included on the most recent list as it has in previous years. Several leading international watchdog organizations list the country as one of the most dangerous for Christians.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has been one of the most vocal critics of the president’s decision.
As former chairman of the Africa Global Health and Global Human Rights Committee, he was already well-versed on the subject before taking on his current role as the ranking GOP member and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Calling the decision to remove Nigeria from the list “totally unjustified,” Smith added that it represents “a retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution.”
“I couldn’t be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken”
The New Jersey Republican noted that the Biden administration’s move appears to have “coincided with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria.”
He went on to criticize Blinken for failing to hold Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari accountable for the nation’s oppression of religious minorities.
“I have chaired multiple hearings on what is unfolding in Nigeria, and I listen to diverse voices,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken.”
The lawmaker cited “respect for human rights, including religious freedom” to be a cornerstone of democratic governments, adding: “You can’t give President Buhari a passing grade when he has utterly failed to protect religious freedom, including and especially that of Christians.”
For his part, Biden has yet to provide a response or justification for Nigeria’s absence from the Countries of Particular Concern list. That might come as little surprise, however, considering the lack of transparency for which his administration has already been widely denounced.