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Nigeria’s Commitment to Human Rights Crucial for US

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari presides at a meeting with his nation's service chiefs in Abuja, June 2, 2015.

A U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday that the Nigerian government’s commitment to addressing alleged human rights abuses by its security forces will be “fundamental” to its relations with the United States “going forward.”

Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, made her comments to a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee in the wake of reports of widespread executions and torture since Nigeria launched its campaign to fight Boko Haram militants.

Nigeria's attention to alleged abuses “will be fundamental to our ability to work together going forward, because the shared interest and shared values have to be at the foundation of our relationship,” she said.

Dory said the U.S. was waiting to assess newly inaugurated President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to addressing “long-standing” human rights concerns, many of which originated under the leadership of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.

Extrajudicial executions

On Wednesday, Amnesty International released a report that said at least 1,200 people had been extrajudicially executed since the Nigerian military launched its campaign against Boko Haram, a group blamed for scores of deadly attacks and kidnappings.

The human rights group said another 7,000 had died in custody, many from torture, hunger or poor prison conditions.

Buhari promised to investigate the allegations, saying his government would “leave no stone unturned” in dealing with cases of human rights abuses.

However, the Nigerian leader faces a number of challenges in addressing human rights concerns such as those raised by Amnesty International, said Lauren Ploch Blanchard, an African affairs specialist with the Congressional Research Service.

“It will be telling to see how quickly he deals with the charges against those individuals [named in the Amnesty report ] and proceeds potentially with cases against them,” Blanchard said in testimony before the Senate panel.

Hopes for improvement

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the panel the U.S. is optimistic that it can “reset” its relationship with Nigeria’s government.

“It was a complicated relationship during the previous administration that did not always work well,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Relations between the U.S. and Nigeria became strained under Jonathan, even as the U.S. provided intelligence and equipment to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram.

Nigerian government officials had accused the U.S. of meddling in the country’s internal affairs after the U.S. raised concerns about alleged human rights violations and corruption.

Last week, a senior State Department official said the U.S. hoped to do more to help Nigeria fight the militant group under Buhari’s administration.

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