South Sudan inches toward genocide

Not that long ago, it seemed the entire world was worried about genocide in Sudan. There was outrage, and celebrities took up the cause.

But like a pestilence, death continues to haunt the people there.

In 2011, the people in southern Sudan voted to break away and form their own nation: South Sudan. But that hasn't stopped the violence. Persecution continues in the Darfur region of Sudan, and South Sudan is descending into chaos.

In December 2013, political fighting in South Sudan became physical fighting. Ever since, the world's youngest nation has teetered on the brink of a full-blown civil war. This blog has followed the work of those trying to help the people trapped in the middle, including amazing organizations like Solidarity With South Sudan. I gratefully reported their news that an uneasy peace seemed to have taken hold and sadly reported when that peace was shattered.

Now it has become clear that it is war, not peace, that grips the country. And even worse, the war seems to be between the government and its own people. The rebels, too, attack the people with impunity.

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof recently reported from South Sudan that the nation has not only devolved into the full-blown civil war so many feared, but has turned into ethnic cleansing and is "inching toward genocide."

"A brutal civil war here in the world's newest country has led government forces to burn villages, kill unarmed farmers, castrate boys, rape women and girls, and pillage hospitals. Rebels engage in similar behavior," Kristof writes. "Aid workers and journalists are under attack, with armed men breaking into a Catholic compound and raping a 67-year-old American nun."

Kristof's column tells of terrorized people hiding in swamps amid cobras and crocodiles. The dangers there, they say, are not as frightening as the soldiers.

"This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war — yet it has been more or less off the international radar," said Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Kristof reported.

The U.N.'s report on human rights — or the lack thereof — in South Sudan paints an even more frightening picture:

[The human rights violations include] large scale extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, abductions and enforced disappearances, forced displacement, looting, livestock-raiding and the burning of houses. Additionally, there have been cases of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, forced recruitment (including of children), and extensive destruction of civilian property. From the middle of 2015, a new pattern emerged, particularly in the central and southern counties of Unity, with entire villages being burned down, food crops destroyed and livestock looted.

And both sides, the U.N. reports, are deliberately targeting civilians.

There are indications that this may have been a deliberate strategy by the government or the SPLA [South Sudan National Liberation Movement] aimed at depriving civilians of any source of livelihood with a view to forcing their displacement. Very few places in areas of conflict have been safe, as the parties have intentionally attacked traditional safe havens, such as places of worship, hospitals and, from time to time, United Nations bases. The report finds that gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law have occurred in all areas where fighting has taken place, attributable to all parties to the conflict.

Not only civilians are being targeted, Kristof says: Aid workers trying to help civilians are being killed at a rate of one every two weeks.

Kristof writes that the United States government had a hand in helping set up the South Sudan government, which gives us at least some responsibility in helping to stop the violence, he says. Whether we have a civil responsibility or not, it is more than obvious we have a human responsibility.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

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