ADDIS ABABA— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Nigerian authorities are working to stop human rights abuses by security forces in their fight against Boko Haram militants. The U.S. top diplomat made the remarks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where he took part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union.
Secretary Kerry said there is no denying the destabilizing ferocity of Boko Haram's campaign of violence in Nigeria.
"They have killed wantonly and upset the normal governance of Nigeria in fundamental ways that are unacceptable. And so we defend the right completely of the government of Nigeria to defend itself and to fight back against terrorists."
But human rights groups and some northern leaders have complained about reprisal attacks by Nigerian security forces that further alienate local populations, making it harder to gain information about Boko Haram.
A senior State Department official traveling with Secretary Kerry says Washington has been monitoring the conduct of Nigerian forces during a state of emergency declared earlier this month and concludes that human rights abuses are continuing.
The official said: "It still remains a concern for us. Peace, stability in the north and human rights issues."
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, with whom Kerry met on the sidelines of A.U. summit, has ordered an investigation into alleged misconduct during security operations in the village of Baga. And for that, Secretary Kerry said Nigeria deserved credit.
"The government has acknowledged that there have been some problems. They're working to try to control it. It's not easy. It's very complicated in wide-open spaces, very ungoverned, very, very difficult, very complex territory and terrain and a very challenging enterprise."
Tough balancing act
Kerry said U.S. and Nigerian officials have spoken directly about the imperative of Nigerian troops adhering to the highest standards.
"One person's atrocity does not excuse another's. And 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. And that's what needs to happen in Nigeria."
Kerry says the balance between protecting human rights and defending security comes from strong civilian and military leadership.
Nigeria's military says it has destroyed a number of what it calls "well-equipped" Boko Haram camps from which officials say the group coordinated attacks on neighboring communities.
More than 2,000 soldiers were deployed to Nigeria's northern states last week in the Jonathan administration's biggest campaign yet against the group, which says it is fighting for an independent state in northern Nigeria ruled by Sharia law.