US Secretary of State John Kerry gestures as he speaks at a news conference at the Nairobi Sankara Hotel on May 4, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. © 2015 Reuters

(Washington, DC) - United States Secretary of State John Kerry should underscore respect for human rights and civilian protection during his upcoming trip to Kenya, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the secretary of state. Secretary Kerry will meet with senior government officials in Kenya on August 22, 2016, and in Nigeria on August 23-24. He will be in Saudi Arabia to discuss the armed conflict in Yemen on August 24-25.

“Secretary Kerry should press Kenya and Nigeria to ensure that security forces protect instead of prey on marginalized communities, including refugees,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Kerry needs to tell the Saudis that unless unlawful coalition airstrikes in Yemen stop, US weapons sales will.”

In Kenya, Kerry should urge investigations into security force abuses including enforced disappearances and torture. He should also urge Kenya not to close Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, or forcibly repatriate Somali refugees to their embattled country. In Nigeria, Kerry should continue to press for meaningful reforms in the Nigerian military.

Kerry should also use his Africa visit to address widespread atrocities in South Sudan and urge leaders of countries in the region to impose targeted financial sanctions on individuals responsible for grave human rights abuses and to build international support for an arms embargo. Regarding Somalia, Kerry should push to strengthen accountability mechanisms within AMISOM, the international peacekeeping mission, with all troop-contributing countries.

In Saudi Arabia, Kerry should raise concerns about serious and repeated violations of the laws of war by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that have killed many civilians. He should make clear that the Saudi government needs to end unlawful airstrikes or risk losing US sales of munitions and arms. He should also press the government to allow independent investigations into alleged war crimes by all parties to the conflict.

“The Obama administration will have few remaining opportunities to express its human rights concerns directly to leaders in the region,” Margon said. “It shouldn’t waste this one.”