JUBA, South Sudan- After thousands of deaths and more than one million people forced to flee their homes, the United States on May 6 imposed economic sanctions against South Sudan, targeting individuals on both sides of the ethnic conflict.
Ethnic killings erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 initiated by a political struggle between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his rival and former deputy, Riek Machar. The conflict quickly expanded across ethnic lines as violence between the Dinka (who support Kiir) and the Nuer (who support Machar) quickly escalated.
The economic sanctions will impose asset freezes and travel bans on one individual on each side of the conflict.
“The primary purpose is to isolate and apply pressure to change the decision-making calculus of the key actors involved,” said an official of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
In the Nuer community, Peter Gadet, an army commander under Machar, was sanctioned. Gadet led rebel forces in an assault in Bentiu this past April that killed more than 200 civilians, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
On the opposing side, Marial Chanuong, the commander of the government’s presidential guard force, was sanctioned after leading attacks against civilians in South Sudan’s capital of Juba.
For the citizens of South Sudan, the conflict has dashed hopes for the future of the world’s newest country. Many also question how the state can heal from such devastation.
“I saw soldiers shooting people, and when I saw it I ran away,” said Bol Ngot, a university student in Juba. “My head was covered in blood. I thought they were going to kill me.”
Ngot was hiding in a house with other Nuer men when government soldiers forced them into the street. He was severely beaten while two others, including his cousin, were killed.
For Vito Mario, an oil technician from the Shilluk tribe, the violence not only resulted in the death of his neighbors by Nuer fighters, but also forced him to flee his home for a camp where thousands of displaced citizens are now residing.
“They destroyed our lives. We don’t want these people to live with us in the Upper Nile State,” Mario said. “To live together.”
The sanctions against South Sudan were enforced under an executive order signed by Obama a month ago in response to the brutality and mass death plaguing South Sudan. The ethnic conflict could even escalate into genocide, according to top United Nations officials.
In addition, Kiir and Machar agreed to meet for talks in Ethiopia this Friday to address the conflict.
According to an Oxfam country profile, 51 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line as a result of decades of conflict and instability in the region. Furthermore, South Sudan ranks near the bottom for most social development, economic, and global health indicators. As the current conflict continues, it will be nearly impossible for these people to move out of poverty and overall better their socio-economic and political situation.
“Fighting must end,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “The country’s leaders must close the wounds they have opened.”