Conflict & Justice

Kerry pressures Nigeria on human rights during first visit to sub-Saharan Africa


US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) attends the 50th African Union Aniversary Summit in Addis Ababa on May 25, 2013, with Africa's myriad problems set aside for a day to mark the progress that has been made. Today's 54-member AU is the successor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), established amid the heady days as independence from colonial rule swept the continent in 1963.


Simon Maina

John Kerry pressured Nigeria over its reported human rights issues Saturday, during his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office. 

The US secretary of state is in Ethiopia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the African Union.

His trip — which began Monday and included stops in Oman, Jordan, and Israel — has mainly focused on diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. 

"One’s person’s atrocity does not excuse another’s," Kerry said in response to a question about Nigeria's armed forces committing human rights abuses. 

“We defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists. That said, I have raised the issue of human rights with the government.”

Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group charged with launching attacks on Nigerian communities, in its strongest offensive against the group yet. 

However, there have been reports of "heavy-handed measures" taken by the country's armed forces, including executions, detentions, disappearances, and burning down of homes, the Washington Post reported

Kerry is expected to meet Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan — who declared a state of emergency in three of the country's provinces earlier this month — on the sidelines of the African Union celebrations. 

"To their credit, the government has acknowledged that there have been some problems," in Nigeria's hard-to-govern territories, Kerry said. “They’re working to try to control it. It’s not easy."

Also on Saturday, Kerry pledged to appoint a new special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, after an oil dispute almost reignited war between the two nations last year. 

More from GlobalPost: Kerry urges Nigeria to respect human rights in Boko Haram offensive