More than 340,000 people fled the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, this year. Millions of people have been internally displaced, along with the hundreds of thousands who have fled into Uganda since fighting began at the end of 2013. More than 50,000 people have been killed in the civil war. Now, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says, “the risk of these mass atrocities, which include recurring episodes of ethnic cleansing, escalating into possible genocide is all too real.”
The Dinka-led government has targeted Nuer people and, more recently, Equatorians in the country.
An October 2014 African Union report found evidence of massive human rights violations and war crimes by both sides:
“1125.The Commission found that serious violations of human rights have been committed by both sides to the conflict. They include violations of: …
“h. the right to life (through murders and executions that were carried out in various sites in South Sudan);
“i. prohibition of torture and freedom and security of the person (violated variously when soldiers allied to the SPLA gathered civilians in a confined space in the joint operation centre in Gudele on 16th December 2013 and proceeded to shoot them indiscriminately, allegedly forced Nuer civilians to drink human blood, eat human flesh and jump into lit bonfires
“j. women and girls including acts of rape and sexual violence …
“1127.Most of the atrocities were carried out against civilian populations taking no active part in the hostilities. Churches, mosques and hospitals were attacked, humanitarian assistance was impeded, towns pillaged and destroyed, places of protection were attacked and there was testimony of possible conscription of children under 15 years old.
“1128.Unlawful killings of civilians or soldiers who were believed to be hors de combat (no longer taking part in hostilities), were committed by elements of the security forces of the Government. These attacks resulted in massive killings in and around Juba. The people killed were either found during the house to house searches or captured at roadblocks. The evidence also leads the Commission to conclude that war crimes of rape and torture were committed against civilians in and around Juba. The evidence on record also points to members of the security forces of the government being involved. The evidence collected also suggests that war crimes of forced enlisting of children in the army were committed.”
As people starve and crowd into internal refugee camps, the government has increasingly restricted the movements and assistance from the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. United Nations Secretary General wrote in Newsweek that immediate action must be taken:
“This means there must be a cessation of hostilities, followed by a genuinely inclusive political process. If this does not happen immediately, the Security Council should impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions to change the calculations of the parties and convince them to choose the path of peace.”
What can you and I do? Very little, I am afraid, but we must do the little that we can. Painful as it is, we must begin by seeing what is happening in South Sudan. We must not turn our backs, must not ignore the suffering there. And we can join the United Nations call for peace. The United States has proposed an arms embargo in the U.N. Security Council, but Russia and China oppose it.
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For historical background, see National Geographic’s How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended into Bloody Civil War.