Civilians seeking refuge from the fighting wait outside a compound of the UN mission in South Sudan, December 18, 2013. UN Photo/Hailemichael Gebrekrstos
Washington, DC—The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today expressed grave concern over reports that members of ethnic groups are being targeted for killing in South Sudan and warned of the potential for catastrophic violence if leaders of the country do not act quickly to contain their supporters.
Violence has erupted in recent days in South Sudan after a purported failed coup attempt in the capital, Juba. Of particular concern are reports from leading human rights groups that armed groups, including state security forces, are targeting civilians based on their ethnic identity. The United Nations has estimated that 500 people are already dead and thousands are seeking safety in UN compounds.
South Sudan has been the site of massive atrocities during a long civil war that ended in 2005, many of which were committed by and against those same ethnic groups at the center of the current crisis. A history of such violence has often been a warning sign for future violence, even genocide, and security officials describe a rapidly deteriorating situation in the new country of South Sudan, which separated from Sudan in 2011.
“Unless the international community engages immediately to protect civilians, press for the need to hold accountable those government and militia forces targeting civilians, and negotiate an immediate halt to the violence, this situation could spiral into mass atrocities and even genocide,” said Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, which oversees the Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG). “We know from other situations that action early on in a crisis not only helps to save lives, but can also forestall the need for more robust and costly measures down the road,” he added.
The United States, other Western governments, and neighboring African states had reason to be encouraged by South Sudan’s emergence as a free and independent state just two years ago. These same governments now have a special responsibility to respond swiftly and decisively to the outbreak of group-targeted violence.
The Museum has been actively monitoring and raising awareness about Sudan and South Sudan since 2000. In 2004, it issued a genocide emergency for Darfur, and as South Sudan was preparing to declare its independence in 2010, the Museum led a delegation there to assess the potential for mass violence. More recently, the CPG has raised ongoing concerns about violence in Jonglei state and the dire situation in the Nuba Mountains.