U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called on Nigerian authorities to ensure their security forces do not trample on human rights during the government's fight against Boko Haram militants.
In Ethiopia for a summit commemorating the African Union's 50th anniversary, Kerry said U.S. and Nigerian officials have spoken directly about the importance of Nigerian troops maintaining high standards in their respect for civilians' human rights.
"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 said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan deserves credit for ordering an investigation into alleged misconduct during security operations. The top U.S. diplomat also met briefly with the Nigerian leader in Addis Ababa Saturday, on the sidelines of the AU summit.
In a separate round of diplomacy in the Ethiopian capital, Kerry held talks on border security between Sudan and South Sudan, in an effort to normalize their relations and ease lingering disputes.
After meeting with Khartoum's foreign minister , the U.S. secretary said Sudan and South Sudan "are in a very delicate place right now." He said the international community must help both nations focus on "developing the future, not on fighting the issues of the past."
Long-standing disputes have kept tensions high between the governments in Khartoum and Juba. These include sovereignty over the provinces of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which remained under Sudanese control after South Sudan gained independence. Those provinces have been home for many people who fought for years for the South Sudanese cause.
Secretary Kerry also met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Saturday in Addis Ababa. A U.N. spokesman said they discussed the situation in Syria, the Middle East peace process and developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Africa's Great Lakes region. Mr. Ban recently completed a tour of Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
"In South Kordofan and Blue Nile 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."
But Kerry says Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is "trying to press on them through authoritarian means and through violence an adherence to a standard that they simply don't want to accept with respect to Islamism."
"What is critical here in my judgement is for President Bashir to respect what the people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are trying to achieve."
That is complicated by South Sudan's support for some of the groups fighting there.
"And that makes the north feel like the south is instigating some of what is taking place. So we need to resolve those differences."
Kerry says he will soon name a special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan to replace Princeton Lyman, who helped negotiate the resumption of oil exports from South Sudan through Sudan.
Despite his words of caution for Nigeria, Kerry said there is no denying the destabilizing ferocity of Boko Haram's campaign of violence in the West African nation. He said the U.S. completely defends the right of the Nigerian government to defend itself and 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."
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.