JUBA, South Sudan — Throughout months of violence in South Sudan, rebels have reportedly murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians due to their ethnicity. In addition, almost one million people have been displaced from their homes, dashing chances of peace and reconciliation for the young country. In response, the United Nations humans rights chief today urged the warring parties in the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement to allow uprooted victims to return home.
While the agreement was signed in January for a ceasefire, violence has continued to ravage the country.
Since December 2013, Dinka President Salva Kiir has been in a power struggle with Nuer rebel leader Riek Machar. The Dinka and Nuer peoples make up the largest ethnic groups in the country, and while initially a struggle over power, the conflict now is mostly fought along ethnic lines.
The conflict in South Sudan is an obvious breach of basic human rights and parallels past instances of ethnic violence. In particular, ethnic cleansing and genocide raged on in Rwanda in 1994 after Hutu extremists blamed all of the country’s woes on the Tutsi minority. In this conflict, 800,000 men, women, and children were slaughtered. They were killed due to their ethnicity as the United States and U.N. remained silent about this horror.
Ethnic cleansing, the systematic forced removal of an entire group of people, is an example of the worst of humanity. It is an example of absolute ignorance and must be addressed to bring justice for the hundreds of thousands of people murdered. However, while this conflict has raged on since December 2013, the international community has, once again, not provided support to stop this mass violence.
The warfare between the Dinka and Neur populations has not only caused widespread displacement and killings, but reports have also cited increased incidents of sexual violence and war crimes. Further, according to a February investigation by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 3.7 million people are facing food insecurity as a result of the conflict.
In April, the violence particularly escalated, with targeted killings in a hospital in Bentiu. In addition, armed forces stormed a security base in Bor, in Jonglei State, where about 5,000 ethnic Nuer civilians were living in refuge. Such atrocities, especially in urban centers, are appalling and will never lead to peace.
“The killings of more than 50 people in a U.N. base in Bor and the gruesome massacres of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The U.N. Security Council needs to act decisively to impress on the warring parties targeting civilians in South Sudan that they will pay the price for their crimes.”
The U.N., the U.S. and the media must better bring to light the conflict in South Sudan. After the U.S. stood by and watched genocide play out in Rwanda, former U.S. president Bill Clinton publicly recognized the inability of the U.S. to stop such horror. However, it is happening again, as policymakers continue to stand idle. We are all human beings; we all have ears, eyes, a nose and loved ones. And, as humans, we cannot let ethnic violence continue in South Sudan. The time to take action is now, by becoming more educated on this issue, increasing international support, and standing up against such blatant human rights violations.