Every day, 4,000 South Sudanese people cross from their country into Uganda while 36,600 more are already in Ethiopia and a further 57,000 in the Congo. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has warned that tensions in South Sudan may trigger a genocide of the proportions last seen in Rwanda. The Commission says a process of ethnic cleansing is currently underway and reports allege “brutal tactics such as starvation and gang rape are being deployed against civilians”. The Commission will report to the Human Rights Council in March next year.
Chairperson of the Commission, Yasmin Sooka said, “The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda and the international community is under an obligation to prevent it.” Sooka said this in recognition of the deadly silence of the international community during the Rwandan genocide, in particular, the West which usually assumes the role of protector of human rights.
The United States of America, for example, buried information about the genocide in Rwanda so as to “justify” its non-action. Around 800,000 Tutsis ended up being killed in the African country and if the international community again ignores calls for action, South Sudan will face the same fate. Ms. Sooka has already drawn parallels and established that the Rwandan and South Sudanese situations are analogous to say the least.
She said, “There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages; everywhere we went across this country we heard villagers saying they are ready to shed blood to get their land back.
Many told us it’s already reached a point of no return.” The Commission encountered a woman gang-raped by soldiers just days before and heard of other women who had been raped by soldiers too. Ms. Sooka said aid workers described gang-rape as “so prevalent that it’s become normal”. More than 1,900 houses have also been destroyed in Central Equatoria of South Sudan while 4,000 irregular militia soldiers have been deployed by the government.
Apart from the UN, it is a relief that countries like the USA have expressed concern over the situation lending hope to an otherwise hopeless situation. US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner has said, “The United States is alarmed by the violence in the Equatoria region of South Sudan and concerned it could quickly spiral out of control.”
The country has called for sanctions to stop the violence but according to Reuters, it is struggling to secure the minimum number of votes needed for the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan. However, unlike in the Clinton administration, the position of the US is at least unequivocal in this regard with Toner asserting,
“We cannot turn a blind eye to these crimes, and must ensure that all those who order, incite or commit violence against civilians are held accountable.”
Even though this is a good sign, the fact that the US cannot secure enough votes is a sign that other countries with the power to stop the genocide are not willing. The sanctions Washington now seeks have also been said to have come more than two years late. Speaking to Foreign Policy, Edmund Yakani, the executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO) said,
“I wish the United States could have done this the right way when the violence started in 2013.”
Plans by the UN to send more than 4,000 peacekeepers to South Sudan have been resisted by the country’s officials. After all, these peacekeepers would be deployed to the city of Juba yet violence has spread throughout the country. This time, it might not be silence that results in genocide but confusion and delay.
South Sudan is at the cusp of implosion and the continent along with the rest of the world cannot have minor wrangles and confusion over political principles when lives are at stake. This is not the time to deal with foreign policy clashes yet women are being gang-raped in South Sudan. Rwanda cannot and should not be repeated.