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South Sudan: AU should intervene
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 04 - 2017

EVERYBODY knows what is going on in South Sudan. Still, Britain did a good thing in describing the situation in that country in stark terms. Massacres taking place there are "tribal, it is absolutely tribal, so on that basis it is genocide," UK's Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel declared, after meeting South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Tuesday.

Although a UN report released last month said South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing by mostly government forces and their allies, Britain is probably the first country to describe killings in that country as genocide.

Patel's warning comes just two days after government troops and militias carried out targeted killings in the western town of Wau where soldiers singled out civilians of the Fertit and Luo ethnic groups in retaliation for a rebel attack on government forces. Residents said the dead included children who had been on their way to school. About 13,500 people have sought shelter at the UN mission's base in Wau since Monday, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The conflict which started as a power struggle between the country's two dominant tribes, the Nuer and the Dinka, is spreading into new areas and sucking in other ethnic groups. At least 50,000 people have died since the conflict began in December 2013, creating Africa's largest migrant crisis. Some 1.8 million people have taken shelter in neighboring countries including Sudan, the country they fought so hard to leave.

Seeing the atrocities in Wau and the intensity of fighting in recent weeks, some wonder whether a sinister but secret plan to eliminate the non-Dinka tribes to declare Dinka, who constitute less than 20 percent of the total population and to which President Kiir belongs, as the only recognized citizens of South Sudan, were afoot.

The situation is so hopeless many are asking the question whether separation from Sudan has not done more harm than good.

Sudan enters any discussion of South Sudan not because they were one country until a few years ago but there are similarities the problems and situations they face. For example, what is happening in South Sudan now and Darfur, the vast, western region of Sudan that plunged into conflict in the mid-2000s is shockingly similar. It is as though we are witnessing a bigger version of Darfur in South Sudan: Government-backed militias, and sometimes uniformed soldiers, sweeping into towns, burning down huts, massacring civilians, gang-raping women and driving millions from their homes, leaving many to crowd into disease-ridden camps protected by United Nations peacekeepers. It was for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, asked The Hague-based body on July 14, 2008, to indict Sudanese President Omar Bashir.

It will be too much to expect that South Sudan will be hauled up before ICC but nobody can deny that a culture of impunity is at the root of the violence that is convulsing this country. The recent fighting including rapes and beatings of aid workers and civilians by soldiers at a Juba hotel have been linked to a lack of accountability for human rights violations.

This should stop.

The 2015 peace agreement obligates the warring parties to accept a criminal tribunal to be created by the African Union with South Sudanese and other African judges. The leader of one group, Riek Machar, the former vice president and powerful Nuer politician who led the rebellion against the president, is in exile in South Africa, but that has not meant the end of violence largely directed by the other party, the government. The AU has the legal mechanisms required to intervene in South Sudan. One key provision in AU's Constitutive Act is for forcible intervention in the case of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. Let us hope Priti Patel's blunt remarks would spur the AU into some kind of action.

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