International Expert Meeting on the Persecution and Genocide of Christians in Nigeria

International Strategy Conference: “Persecution and Genocide of Christians in Sub Saharan Africa”

Organized by the International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family (ICOLF)
Co-sponsored by Ave Maria School of Law, the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International

Following a surge in beheadings, abductions and other violent assaults by Islamic extremists targeting Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and ordinary Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 leading experts in international religious freedom convened a three-day emergency strategy session on how to respond. It was held at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

At the meeting, the experts resolved to form a new international network named, “The Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara,” in order to press for new government policies and humanitarian aid.

 

A Strategy Conference:

This persecution is a relatively new development, marked by an accelerating intensity and scope during 2019. Many of the victims are Catholics, which has prompted the Sub Saharan Catholic bishops to be remarkably vocal in their pleas for help. And, because it is new, it seems that all sectors in the West remain unaware of the scale of the crisis and are unprepared to provide help. There is little infrastructure in the US dedicated to religious persecution in Africa; few religious freedom organizations have well-developed Sub Saharan components or networks.

A strategy conference convened at the Ave Maria School of Law would be pivotal, convening religious freedom advocates and experts across relevant disciplines, while there is still time. While there are few focusing directly on anti-Christian persecution in Sub Saharan African, several of us have worked in coalition on similar patterns of persecution in the Middle East. An Ave Maria conference would be path breaking and lead the way in this effort.

 

The purpose of the conference:

  1. Raise awareness and sharing information among leading Catholic religious persecution advocates and aid providers with information, analysis and testimony from some of the hardest-hit African Christian communities.
  2. Discuss and adopt achievable strategies to help the targeted communities, working through US government policies, Congress, Western and international organizations and private charities, churches, NGOs, and think tanks.
  3. Develop a core network of experts, including church and lay leaders in Africa, to sustain a campaign to protect and preserve Sub Saharan Christianity.

 

The Context

An Islamic extremist effort to exterminate Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is intensifying and even more brutal and more consequential for the Church than it is in the Middle East, the place where the US government officially determined that Christians suffered ISIS “genocide.” A growing number of these African countries are seeing the rise of ISIS- and al-Qaida affiliates, and non-state terrorists like them, who specifically target Christians in their quest to establish Islamist rule. Western governments, NGOs and the media have shown little awareness of this threat, even as Church leaders in Africa plead for international help. As jihadists gain ground, the Pentagon is currently proposing the removal of 6,000 US troops from Africa, including the 1,400 in West Africa.

These African churches are the youngest Church communities, whose exponential growth has prompted the Vatican and others to see Africa as “the beacon of hope for the Church.” Data released in 2019 show, for the first time, Africa as the continent with the most Christians, numbering 631 million, surpassing even Latin America. Whereas hundred years ago, there were barely 2 million Catholics on the continent, now there are 230 million. Africa generates ten percent of the world’s Catholic priests. But the bright future of African Christianity is imperiled by a fast-growing and violently intolerant Islamist trend.

Violent attacks are up five-fold since 2016 in West Africa. In recent years, thousands of Christians have been slaughtered, forcibly converted to Islam, kidnapped for ransom or sexual enslavement, and/or driven out of their homes and into refugee camps.  Such a pattern is called “religio-ethnic cleansing” though it may amount to legally defined genocide.

 

Facts

  • Although recent massacres in Burkina Faso are almost as alarming, no place in sub-Sahara is more notorious for religious hostility against Christians than Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. Over the last decade, more Christians have been deliberately murdered for their faith by Islamic extremists in Nigeria’s northern and central belts than in all the Middle East combined.
  • Over 20 Catholics and Protestants have been beheaded since Christmas in Nigeria, alone.
  • Among those murdered for their faith over Christmas include a Catholic bride and all her bridesmaids, while traveling to the bride’s country home to prepare the wedding.
  • In mid-January, Rev. Andimi, the director of a regional office of the Christian Association of Nigeria, was filmed by Isis’ affiliate pleading for his life and, in a later film, being beheaded by the terror group.  His executioner was identified as Emanuel, a man from his church who had been previously abducted and forcibly converted to Islam.
  • Also, in mid-January, word came that the 14 -year-old Nigerian Christian girl Leah Sharibu, whose case of abduction and enslavement “for life” two years ago after courageously giving witness to her faith at gunpoint became internationally known, is now a mother and has been forcibly converted to Islam while captive in the Nigerian wilderness.
  • In tiny Burkina Faso, three priests and two Protestant ministers have been murdered, along with their congregations during 2019. On 20 January 2020, a village of 195 homes was razed to the ground and the Christian inhabitants who could flee were eventually taken hostage or killed. Terrorists carefully choose and target teachers and priests with a view to crippling social services for a population who becomes homeless and poor through internal displacement. By the end of January 2020, there were at least 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) under the care of the Catholic Church.
  • A few months ago, all the residents of an entire Christian village were slaughtered in Mali, leaving no survivors.
  • Even majority Christian Mozambique on Africa’s east coast is experiencing a “cyclone” of extremist attacks, according to the Catholic bishops’ conference there.
  • In each of these countries, churches are being systematically burned in the areas under extremist’ control.

 

Post-Strategy Outcomes

Experts Form “Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara

ISIS, Al-Qaeda & Others Pose Threat of Religious Genocide in Africa, Session Concludes

NAPLES, FL, March 10, 2020 Following a surge in beheadings, abductions and other violent assaults by Islamic extremists targeting Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and ordinary Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 leading experts in international religious freedom convened a three-day emergency strategy session, March 5-7, on how to respond. It was held at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

At the meeting, the experts resolved to form a new international network named, “The Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara,” in order to press for new government policies and humanitarian aid.

The meeting heard eye-witness testimony and discussed policy initiatives of governments and inter-governmental entities, with briefings from governmental, congressional, and episcopal representatives. It concluded with identifying strategies to help the persecuted sub-Saharan African communities. Most participants have been involved in aiding and advocating for the Christians who faced ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

  • Joseph Fidelis, a Nigerian priest of the Maiduguri Catholic diocese, the epicenter of the persecution, opened the session detailing atrocities in his area stating, “What is happening to Nigerian Christians is gross persecution and terrorism. The entire population is poor and suffers at the hands of the militant groups. If climate change was the sole reasons for terror, why are non-Christian villages passed by, while Christian villages are razed, and their residents slaughtered?” The priest related that he frequently traveled the same highway out of the northeastern city of Maiduguri where a Catholic bride and her wedding party of six women were abducted and beheaded in late December.

Over two thousand Nigerian Christians have been murdered since 2018 in Nigeria and nearly two dozen Christians there were beheaded around Christmas by local Boko Haram militants, some with direct links to the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS. Along the Niger border in Burkina Faso last month, at least 24 more people were killed, 18 injured and others kidnapped when armed men thought to be linked to Al-Qaeda attacked a Protestant church during the Sunday worship service. In eastern Kenya, extremists extracted Christians from a public bus and executed them on the spot, in recent days.

  • Ave Maria Law Professor Jane Adolphe, the session’s organizer and main sponsor, said: “The presentation of Rev. Fidelis vividly portrayed the gruesome reality of sexual violence as a tactic of terror. Specialized in trauma support, he is on the front lines welcoming female victims with his gentle manner and soothing voice. His very being is in marked contrast to the criminals and terrorists who have captured, enslaved, and systematically raped women and girls as religiously justified treatment of the “infidel,” something codified and regulated.”
  • “ISIS and Al-Qaeda — the same violent forces that brought Iraq’s Christian communities to near-extinction — are now joining efforts against sub-Saharan Christians and we must act before it’s too late,” said co-sponsor Nina Shea of the Washington, DC- based Hudson Institute. She recommended that “Congress and the State Department review whether religious genocide threatens sub-Saharan Christians and others and USAID support African locals to document the abuses.” “The Pentagon should drop any recommendation to withdraw US troops from Africa at this time,” she added, noting that Nigeria’s President Buhari appeared “unwilling to take meaningful action to protect the Christians and other vulnerable communities from growing Islamic extremism, while elsewhere governments may be unable to do so.”
  • “ACN is made aware of the need for a global strategy through its local projects partners,” said Marcela Szymanski and Edward Clancy of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need, another co-sponsor. “After hundreds of unpunished murders during 2019 in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya and Mozambique, the terrorist groups feel confident enough to leave notes in the Christian villages demanding that the young men and women be “delivered” to them in servitude or else they will raze the village.”
  • Genocide Watch’s Gregory Stanton, after briefing the group on genocide’s legal meaning, stated that, in Nigeria and Cameroon, “Boko Haram,” is a “terrorist group bent on genocide.” He declared that “Fulani militants in central Nigeria are also committing crimes against humanity and genocidal massacres against Christians.”
  • Former Congressman Frank Wolf, sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, read from a message he received: “I am back from Nigeria. Absolutely the worst situation in the world and maybe the most dangerous.” Wolf urged action ranging from raising public awareness to the creation of advisory groups on the ground to the special envoys for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.
  • “Aware of the previously good relations of Muslims and Christians in the region, the involvement of the Muslim communities, supporting their Christian neighbors and promoting pluralism is urgent and should be achievable,” said Kent Hill, of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington DC.

Africa surpassed Latin America as the continent with the most Christians in 2019. The Vatican has called Africa the “beacon of hope” for the Church in the future. The question is whether the Christian community in sub-Saharan Africa will face the same fate of the Christian community in Iraq.

It is the second event organized by ICOLF on the persecution and genocide of Christians. The first one, in 2016, led to the book edited by Ronald J. Rychlak, Jane F. Adolphe, “The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East: Prevention, Prohibition, & Prosecution” (Angelico Press: 2017).

 


Experts Form “Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara”

ISIS, Al-Qaeda & Others Pose Threat of Religious Genocide in Africa, Session Concludes at Ave Maria Law

Naples, FL, March 10, 2020 – PRNewswire – Following a surge in beheadings, abductions and other violent assaults by Islamic extremists targeting Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and ordinary Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 leading experts in international religious freedom convened a three-day emergency strategy session, March 5-7, on how to respond. It was held at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.

At the meeting, the experts resolved to form a new international network named, “The Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara,” in order to press for new government policies and humanitarian aid.

The meeting heard eye-witness testimony and discussed policy initiatives of governments and inter-governmental entities, with briefings from governmental, congressional, and episcopal representatives. It concluded with identifying strategies to help the persecuted sub-Saharan African communities. Most participants have been involved in aiding and advocating for the Christians who faced ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

Rev. Joseph Fidelis, a Nigerian priest of the Maiduguri Catholic diocese, the epicenter of the persecution, opened the session detailing atrocities in his area stating, “What is happening to Nigerian Christians is gross persecution and terrorism. The entire population is poor and suffers at the hands of the militant groups. If climate change was the sole reasons for terror, why are non-Christian villages passed by, while Christian villages are razed, and their residents slaughtered?” The priest related that he frequently traveled the same highway out of the northeastern city of Maiduguri where a Catholic bride and her wedding party of six women were abducted and beheaded in late December.

Over two thousand Nigerian Christians have been murdered since 2018 in Nigeria and nearly two dozen Christians there were beheaded around Christmas by local Boko Haram militants, some with direct links to the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS. Along the Niger border in Burkina Faso last month, at least 24 more people were killed, 18 injured and others kidnapped when armed men thought to be linked to Al-Qaeda attacked a Protestant church during the Sunday worship service. In eastern Kenya, extremists extracted Christians from a public bus and executed them on the spot, in recent days.

Ave Maria Law Professor Jane Adolphe, the session’s organizer and main sponsor, said: “The presentation of Rev. Fidelis vividly portrayed the gruesome reality of sexual violence as a tactic of terror. Specialized in trauma support, he is on the front lines welcoming female victims with his gentle manner and soothing voice. His very being is in marked contrast to the criminals and terrorists who have captured, enslaved, and systematically raped women and girls as religiously justified treatment of the “infidel,” something codified and regulated.”

“ISIS and Al-Qaeda — the same violent forces that brought Iraq’s Christian communities to near-extinction — are now joining efforts against sub-Saharan Christians and we must act before it’s too late,” said co-sponsor Nina Shea of the Washington, DC-based Hudson Institute. She recommended that “Congress and the State Department review whether religious genocide threatens sub-Saharan Christians and others and USAID support African locals to document the abuses.” “The Pentagon should drop any recommendation to withdraw US troops from Africa at this time,” she added, noting that Nigeria’s President Buhari appeared “unwilling to take meaningful action to protect the Christians and other vulnerable communities from growing Islamic extremism, while elsewhere governments may be unable to do so.”

“ACN is made aware of the need for a global strategy through its local projects partners,” said Marcela Szymanski and Edward Clancy of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need, another co-sponsor. “After hundreds of unpunished murders during 2019 in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya and Mozambique, the terrorist groups feel confident enough to leave notes in the Christian villages demanding that the young men and women be “delivered” to them in servitude or else they will raze the village.”

Genocide Watch’s Gregory Stanton, after briefing the group on genocide’s legal meaning, stated that, in Nigeria and Cameroon, “Boko Haram,” is a “terrorist group bent on genocide.” He declared that “Fulani militants in central Nigeria are also committing crimes against humanity and genocidal massacres against Christians.”

Former Congressman Frank Wolf, sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, read from a message he received: “I am back from Nigeria. Absolutely the worst situation in the world and maybe the most dangerous.” Wolf urged action ranging from raising public awareness to the creation of advisory groups on the ground to the special envoys for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.

“Aware of the previously good relations of Muslims and Christians in the region, the involvement of the Muslim communities, supporting their Christian neighbors and promoting pluralism is urgent and should be achievable,” said Kent Hill, of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington DC.

Africa surpassed Latin America as the continent with the most Christians in 2019. The Vatican has called Africa the “beacon of hope” for the Church in the future. The question is whether the Christian community in sub-Saharan Africa will face the same fate of the Christian community in Iraq.

The meeting was organized under the auspices of the International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family (ICOLF) www.icolf.org, headquartered at Ave Maria School of Law; and co-sponsored by Ave Maria School of Law www.avemarialaw.edu, the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International. It gathered experts from the United States, Poland, Brussels, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

It is the second event organized by ICOLF on the persecution and genocide of Christians. The first one, in 2016, led to the book edited by Ronald J. Rychlak, Jane F. Adolphe, “The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East: Prevention, Prohibition, & Prosecution” (Angelico Press: 2017).