Making his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday demanded that Nigeria respect human rights as it cracks down on Islamist extremists and pledged to work hard 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 Boko Haram, an al-Qaeda-linked radical sect. But he said there was no excuse for abuses by armed forces in Nigeria's long-neglected north, where 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, however, 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," Kerry said.
Speaking alongside Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Kerry also blamed Sudan's government for much of the tension along its volatile border with South Sudan.
He says residents in the contested areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan don't want strict Islamic 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.
"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."
The response from Sudan's government has been to "press on them through authoritarian means and violence an adherence to a standard that they simply don't want to accept".