Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., blasted President Joe Biden's State Department this week for removing Nigeria from a list of countries violating religious freedom rights, calling the move "a retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution."
Smith noted that the State Department did not include the African nation's name on its annual Countries of Particular Concern list which includes countries that "engaged in or tolerated severe violations" of religious freedom during the year, according to the agency.
Several international watchdog organizations have flagged Nigeria as one of the most dangerous nations for Christians in the world, including Genocide Watch, which said Nigeria is a "killing field of defenseless Christians."
Another organization, the Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria, called the U.S. decision to remove the country from the list as "curious."
"The curious decision of the US government to take Nigeria off the list of countries violating religious freedom came to the Christian community in our country as a rude shock." It said, "Selective killings of religious worshippers based on their faith" are ongoing under the regime of the Nigerian President, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
"It was wrong for the United States to adopt this provocative and ignorant decision even when Christians of Northern Nigerian extraction are killed by Muslim Fulani armed militia supported by officials working inside the office of President Muhammadu Buhari."
Smith said the decision to remove the country from the list seems to coincide with a visit from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
"The withdrawal of the CPC designation coincided with Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Nigeria — when he should have been confronting President Buhari on his record — is appalling," Smith said Tuesday.
"The failure to hold Buhari to account — indeed to reward him by withdrawing the CPC designation — will only embolden Fulani militants. The Nigerian government has also failed to protect Nigerians from other extremists such as Boko Haram, Ansaru, and Islamic State West Africa."
Smith, who is former chairman of the Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights Committee and currently serves as ranking Republican member as well as co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said he is disappointed in the decision after chairing several hearings in Congress learning details of the religious discrimination there.
"I have chaired multiple hearings on what is unfolding in Nigeria, and I listen to diverse voices. I couldn't be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken. You can't give President Buhari a passing grade when he has utterly failed to protect religious freedom, including and especially that of Christians. A core principle of any robust democracy is respect for human rights, including religious freedom."
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