30 April 2014

South Sudan: UN Warns Against Pending South Sudan 'Catastrophe'

The United Nations human rights chief has issued a strong warning that South Sudan is on the road to a catastrophe. Months of armed conflict are threatening to send the country into a tailspin, the UN said.

Speaking from the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights did not mince her words when giving her take on the situation in the country at a press conference.

"The deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech, and revenge killings that has developed relentlessly over the past four and a half months seems to be reaching boiling point," Navi Pillay said. "Neither South Sudan's political leaders nor the international community at large seem to perceive quite how dangerous the situation now is."

Pillay was in South Sudan meeting with members of the government and rebel leaders who are on opposing sides of the conflict. This included meetings with President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. They did not escape criticism from Pillay.

"The prospect of widespread hunger and malnutrition being inflicted on hundreds of thousands of their people, because of their personal failure to resolve their differences peacefully, did not appear to concern them very much," she said, adding that if such a tragedy occurred, responsibility would be on of the country's leaders.

Kiir claims that Machar staged a coup attempt in December, the start of the conflict in South Sudan. Both sides agreed to a truce in January, but this agreement quickly fell apart. Thousands of people have been killed and at least a million people have been forced to flee their homes. Pillay added that there were some 9,000 child soldiers fighting on both sides of the conflict.

Warning of "another Rwanda"

The UN envoy for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, was also on hand in Juba for the press conference.

"To the survivors of the genocide, we owe a pledge to take all possible measures within our power to protect populations from another Rwanda, there is no excuse for inaction," he said. "It is clear that the conflict [in South Sudan] has taken a dangerous trajectory, and civilians are being deliberately targeted based on their ethnicity and perceived political affiliation."

About a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Pillay called on the international community to fulfill obligations it made in December regarding the deployment of troops to South Sudan.

"In December, the Security Council agreed that the number of UNMISS peacekeepers should be increased from 7,700 to 13,200, but the contributing countries have still not supplied some two thirds of the extra desperately needed troops," she said.

Funds for some 4.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance are also badly needed, Pillay said.

mz/lw (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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