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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Conflict and Killings in Nigeria’s Middle Belt

Thursday, December 17, 2020 - 1:00pm
2172 Rayburn House Office Building and virtual via Cisco WebEx


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the deteriorating human rights situation in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, including its religious dimensions, and proposed responses.

The underlying causes of the conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are complex and varied. They include competition for access to land and other resources between pastoralists and farmers exacerbated by drought, desertification, and climate change. In a part of the country where farmers are mainly Christian and pastoralists are mainly Muslim and ethnic Fulani, deadly confrontations have sharpened ethnic, regional and religious polarization. Precise statistics are unavailable and fatality counts are contested, but one analysis estimated that farmer-pastoralist conflicts killed 2,000 Nigerians annually between 2011 and 2016. Some have described attacks by pastoralists as a persecution of Christians, amounting to an attempted or unfolding genocide. Some Muslim leaders, for their part, have described attacks on Fulani as part of an effort to purge Nigeria’s Muslim community. The Nigerian state has failed to provide protection or ensure accountability for any of the victims.

In its newly released annual Statistical Risk Assessment (SRA), the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide calculated that Nigeria as a whole faces a 7.3% risk of experiencing a new mass killing by the end of 2021, the 6th highest in the world. In last year’s SRA, Nigeria was ranked 17th with a 5% risk. For purposes of the report, a mass killing occurs when the deliberate actions of armed groups result in the deaths of at least 1,000 noncombatant civilians targeted as part of a specific group over a period of one year or less. The Center did not find evidence that groups perpetrating violence in north-central Nigeria are coordinating in a campaign against a particular group of civilians. Also this month, the State Department designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for violations of religious freedom, opening the country up to possible economic sanctions.

Witnesses will examine Nigeria’s Middle Belt and pastoralist-farmer conflicts, current conflict dynamics, historical background, humanitarian aspects, internal displacement and impunity, and explore recommendations for U.S. and international responses.

This is a hybrid hearing. Pursuant to H. Res. 965, Members of Congress and witnesses who wish to participate remotely may do so via Cisco WebEx.  Members of the public and the media may view the hearing by live webcast on the Commission website. The hearing will also be available for viewing on the House Digital Channel 51. For any questions, please contact Piero Tozzi at 202-225-3765 (for Rep. Smith) or Kimberly Stanton at 202-805-6308 (for Rep. McGovern).   

Hosted by:

Christopher H. Smith
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC
James P. McGovern
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Opening Remarks


Panel I

  • Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom 
    Written testimony
  • Morse Tan, Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice 
    Written testimony
  • Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor  
    Written testimony

Panel II

  • Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
    Written testimony
  • Ann Buwalda, Executive Director, Jubilee Campaign USA
    Written testimony
  • H.E. William Avenya, Bishop of Gboko, Nigeria
    Written testimony
  • Jane Adolphe, Ave Maria School of Law 
    Written testimony
  • R.H. Baroness Cox, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom, and Co-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Thought 
    Written testimony
  • Udo Jude Ilo, Nigeria Country Officer, Open Society Initiative for West Africa
    Written testimony
  • Mike Jobbins, Vice President, Global Affairs and Partnerships, Search for Common Ground
    Written testimony


Submitted for the Record


Note: If you cannot see the above video, use this link:

116th Congress