Watch List: Nigeria Top Country for Murdered Christians in 2020

massacre of Christians
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Nigeria has the gruesome honor of being the country with the most murders of Christians for their faith in 2020, Open Doors’ Watch List 2021 revealed Wednesday.

For the first time, Nigeria made its way into the top ten countries where Christians face the most extreme and violent persecution, with Open Doors announcing that “more Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.”

The prime driver of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria is Islamic extremism, coming from a variety of groups: the Boko Haram terror group, Hausa-Fulani militant Muslim herdsmen, and the affiliate of the Islamic State ISWAP, which operate in the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria but are becoming more common farther south.

“Militants often murder Christians or destroy their property and means of livelihood,” the Watch List states. “Men and boys are particularly vulnerable to being killed. The women and children they leave behind are often displaced to informal camps, face sexual violence, and are even at risk of abduction and forced marriage.”

Throughout 2020, amidst increasing violence, Christian leaders have complained that Nigerian President  Muhammadu Buhari — himself a member of the Fulani ethnicity — has turned a blind eye to targeted attacks on Christians, showing no political will to put an end to the persecution.

In recent years, Nigeria, an African nation split nearly fifty-fifty between Muslims and Christians, has become a theatre for some of the worst anti-Christian violence in the world, with regular reports of massacres, kidnappings, assaults, rape, and destructions of homes and property.

On December 7, 2020, the U.S. State Department designated Nigeria for the first time as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the short list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, countries are designated as CPCs for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In July 2020, the president of the Commission of European Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE) denounced the ongoing violence and targeted persecution of Christians in Nigeria by Islamist militants. In a letter to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said that the Christian communities in Nigeria are “living a situation of continuous attacks by terrorists, insurgents and militias, that in some cases reaches levels of genuine criminal persecution.”

It is a fate sadly felt elsewhere by Christians right across the continent of Africa.

In his letter, Cardinal Hollerich said that his heart went out in a special way to “the many young people who are forced to leave the country because of violence and lack of socio-economic prospects.”

Already in May 2020, COMECE appealed to the international community to increase efforts to put a halt to the violence in Nigeria, bring criminals to justice, support the victims, and promote dialogue and peace.

Along with urging assistance to stop the religiously motivated violence in the country, COMECE also called for the inclusion of Christians, who make up 47 percent of the national population, in all State structures and levels of administrations, including the police and armed forces.

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