Making his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday demanded that Nigeria respect human rights as it cracks down on Islamist extremists and pledged to work hard in the coming months to ease tensions between Sudan and South Sudan.
Kerry, attending the African Union’s 50th anniversary, backed the Nigerian government’s efforts to root out Islamist militant group Boko Haram. However, he said there is no excuse for abuses by armed forces in the country’s long-neglected north, where Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared emergency rule.
“We defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists,” Kerry said.
He added that he has raised his concerns with Nigerian officials to insist on the military “adhering to the highest standards and not itself engaging in atrocities.”
“One person’s atrocities do not excuse another’s,” said Kerry, who later made his case directly to Jonathan over lunch. “Revenge is not the motive. It’s good governance, it’s ridding yourself of a terrorist organization so that you can establish a standard of law that people can respect.”
Amnesty International says the Nigerian military has committed “grave human rights violations” over the past three years, including executions and kidnappings. It is reporting continued wrongdoing, while Human Rights Watch says satellite images showed “massive destruction of civilian property” in a military raid last week.
Speaking to reporters alongside Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Kerry also blamed the Sudanese government for much of the tension along its volatile border with South Sudan.
He said residents in the contested areas of Blue Nile and South Kurdufan states do not want to be subjected to strict Islamist rules.
Both areas border the new nation of South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 under an agreement that ended decades of civil war. Many residents are sympathetic to the South and both areas have experienced regular violence in recent years.
“There are very significant border challenges, but they’re bigger than that,” Kerry said. “You have people who for a long time have felt that they want their secular governance and their identity respected.”
“They don’t want independence; they are not trying to break away from Sudan,” he said.
However, he said the response from Khartoum has been to “press on them through authoritarian means and violence an adherence to a standard that they simply don’t want to accept with respect to Islamism.”
“That’s the fundamental clash,” Kerry said.
However, he acknowledged that the North’s concerns that the South is fueling rebels in the areas and said the US would try to work with Ethiopia and other international partners to ease tensions. He said he would soon appoint a new US envoy to both countries.
Kerry met Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Karti later on Saturday.
In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Kerry also spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and African Union leaders and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, whom he urged to make further economic reforms so that the US Congress can approve more US aid to Egypt.
Kerry was to depart yesterday to Jordan, where he is to attend a business conference and outline plans to help revitalize the Palestinian economy. He is to travel to Paris today for discussions about Syria with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, before returning to Washington after eight days overseas.