South Sudan is at risk of genocide, according to the United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. A steady process of ethnic cleansing is underway in several areas of the country, through starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights warned in South Sudan last week. In the wake of the de-facto collapse of the 2015 peace deal, new action is needed urgently to prevent further deterioration in South Sudan’s humanitarian, political, economic and security crises. On December 8 the U.S. Institute of Peace and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum held a discussion with experts about the risks for mass violence and options for upholding the shared U.S. and global responsibility to prevent genocide.

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Panel l to r - Justin Lynch (on screen via Skype), Amb. Princeton Lyman, USIP Senior Advisor, Payton Knopf, U.N. Panel of Experts on South Sudan, Cameron, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Akshaya Kumar, Human Rights Watch, John Prendergast, Enough Project

Despite the August 2015 peace deal, South Sudan is in crisis. When fighting between forces loyal to President Kiir and then-First Vice President Riek Machar extended to Juba for the first time in July 2016, efforts to establish the transitional government collapsed. Machar ultimately fled the country and his party split. Those who remained in Juba were appointed to government positions, but the government has yet to make progress on its promises to bring in the political or armed opposition or improve the humanitarian situation. 

Instead, violence has spread over the past six months, including to the Equatoria region, which had not been directly involved during the first 14 months of the war. A U.N. Panel of Experts on South Sudan last month concluded that atrocities and gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are taking place, which have only further deepened frustration with and animosity towards the regime. An increase in hate speech and threats against Dinka, Kiir’s ethnic group, in the Equatorias, and against Equatorians in Dinka-areas is one of the indicators of risk for targeted mass violence. 

All of this fuels a humanitarian crisis. Nearly 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began, including 1.66 million internally displaced and more than 1 million in neighboring countries. The violence and continued obstruction of humanitarian assistance has left 4.8 million people, or 1 in 3, unsure of where they will get their next meal. In some locations, famine conditions are either present or approaching. A collapsing economy has further undermined South Sudanese citizens’ ability to feed themselves or their families. In October 2016, the inflation rate peaked at 835 percent. Without a clear macro-economic plan and with no signs of recovery of the oil industry, which previously accounted for 98 percent of government revenue, the outlook is grim. 

In this context, the U.S. and international community face the challenge of preventing mass violence in the short term and supporting a more inclusive path towards a peaceful South Sudan in the medium term. 

Speakers

Hon. Nancy Lindborg, Welcoming Remarks
President, U.S. Institute of Peace 

Hon. Thomas J. Rooney, Opening Remarks
Florida, Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan, House of Representatives

Cameron Hudson, Discussant
Director, Simon-Skodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 

Payton Knopf, Discussant 
U.N. Panel of Experts on South Sudan 

Akshaya Kumar, Discussant
Deputy U.N. Director, Human Rights Watch

Justin Lynch, Discussant
Adjunct Editorial Fellow, New America

John Prendergast, Discussant 
Founding Director, Enough Project  

Amb. Princeton Lyman, Moderator
Senior Advisor, U.S. Institute of Peace

 

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