A new United Nations report describes South Sudan as teetering on the edge of genocide and experiencing ethnic cleansing, a stark portrayal of a nation whose crises now include famine.
The seven-month inquiry by the UN Commission on Human Rights into South Sudan is the most comprehensive report so far into ethnic cleansing and conditions that could lead to genocide in the nation deep in civil war, according to UN officials.
The report includes new details on deliberate starvation and bombardment of civilians. It describes the use of hate speech by top officials including President Salva Kiir.
“Violations have mainly been committed by government soldiers, members of the National Security Service, police officers and militias aligned with” government forces, the report says. Unless “perpetrators of serious violations are brought to account, the viability of South Sudan as a new nation state will be stymied, if it has not been already.”
South Sudan fell into civil war in December 2013, just two years after it won its independence from Sudan. Tens of thousands have been killed, and more than 1.5 million people have fled the East African nation, becoming Africa’s largest migrant crisis.
Now there is deadly hunger. Late last month, the UN and South Sudan’s government declared a famine in two counties affecting about 100,000 people. Roughly 1 million people are at risk of starvation, according to the UN.
The new report calls South Sudan’s ongoing restrictions on humanitarian aid access “unlawful,” and it warns that the “‘scorched earth’ policy may amount to starvation, which is prohibited by international law as a method of warfare.”
On the subject of ethnic violence, the report describes how in January, intense fighting in the Upper Nile region meant “members of the Shilluk ethnic community were forced out of their homes,” with the town of Wau Shilluk being repeatedly shelled and eventually deserted of more than 20,000 residents.
“My people are at risk of physical and cultural extinction,” the leader of the Shilluk Kingdom, Kwongo Dak Padiet, said in a statement dated Saturday and issued separately from the UN report. He cited ongoing military operations and controversial laws that divided the traditional Shilluk homeland, signed by Kiir.
The new report also cites “numerous reports of SPLA soldiers targeting Nuer civilians and raping Nuer women, while accusing the women or their families of ‘supporting the rebels.'”
Many of South Sudan’s forces, like Kiir, are ethnic Dinka.
South Sudanese government officials have repeatedly denied that the country is experiencing genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Ethnic cleansing and the risk of genocide are “not an accurate report. There is nothing happening. The people of South Sudan are preparing for the national dialogue,” government spokesman Michael Makuei told The Associated Press in an interview. Kiir proposed the dialogue last year.
The new UN human rights report also describes how rape has become part of war in South Sudan.
“Several women the commission met had not received essential medical assistance for the injuries that they had sustained as a result of rape, gang rape, beating, sexual assault or other violence,” the report said. “Many had suffered significant damage to their reproductive organs,”
One survivor told the commission that she witnessed the rape of another woman who begged the perpetrators to kill her instead.
“After raping the woman, soldiers cut her genitalia and left her for dead as punishment for ‘being stubborn,'” the report said.