Mass atrocities loom in South Sudan

AMID growing tensions and increasing despair among South Sudan’s population, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the international community’s failure to act now could put the country on a trajectory towards mass atrocities.

“It is time to put the people of South Sudan, and not its leaders, at the forefront of any strategy,” Ki-moon told the UN Security Council (UNSC) in a Monday briefing that also featured UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien.

“We should be united and determined in following through with severe consequences for those who impede the path to peace and stability,” stressed the Secretary-General.

The UN chief informed the Council of reports suggesting that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his loyalists are contemplating a new military offensive in the coming days against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)-In Opposition, as well as of reports that long-time rival Riek Machar and other opposition groups are pursuing a military escalation.

Underscoring that the parties in South Sudan must be prevented from launching any military operation, particularly with the beginning of the dry season, Ki-moon stated: “I urge the Security Council, regional leaders and the international community to make it clear to President Kiir and Riek Machar that initiation of a military offensive will carry serious consequences.”

Reiterating his call for an arms embargo, the Secretary-general said such a measure “would diminish the capacity of all sides to wage war.”

The conflict in South Sudan has already assumed an ethnic dimension. Sounding the alarm at the rising ethnic tensions in the country, including increasing hate speech from many in leadership positions as well as the warning from Adama Dieng, the UN Special Envoy for the Prevention of Genocide, Ki-moon underlined: “I am afraid that process is about to begin unless immediate action is taken.

“The Security Council must send a clear warning that hate speech, incitement and violence must end, and that there will be accountability for mass atrocities and other crimes.”

He also told the Council that the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) continued to face serious restrictions on its freedom of movement throughout the country, and called on the government to fulfil its pledges of unconditional acceptance of the deployment of the Regional Protection Force.

“Words alone are insufficient. They must be matched by practical actions that demonstrate a strategic shift to fully cooperate with the United Nations and all partners for peace.”

Concluding his briefing, Ki-moon noted that the people of South Sudan have suffered far too much, for far too long.

“Its people will be the target of those atrocities while they pin their hopes on the international community in general and the Security Council,” he said, adding: “I appeal to the Security Council to act, to act now, in fulfillment of its responsibility and in support of ongoing regional efforts.” –ANA