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South Sudan: UN warns of 'social engineering' amid looming threat of genocide

South Sudan's Government has begun a campaign of "population engineering" to relocate people based on their ethnicity, a United Nations expert says, as the threat of genocide looms amid the continuing civil war.

PHOTO Internally displaced persons (IDPs) line up early in the morning for a general food distribution at the UNPROTECTION of Civilians Site, Malakal, South Sudan, 16th Dec 2016

Key points:

  • UN says government, opposition forces preventing aid fromREACHING starving populations

  • UN says small group of leaders showing total disregard for people's wellbeing

  • UN calls for human rights abusers to be held accountable

The chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, told the UN Human Rights Council a government redrawing of state borders had depopulated ethnic Shilluk and Nuer inhabitants of the Upper Nile region.

Aid workers estimate 2,000 mostly Dinka people have been transported into Upper Nile state after fighting in the northern Wau Shilluk town, where many people displaced by the civil war have sought refuge, in turn causing many local Shilluk people to flee, Ms Sooka said.

South Sudan's President, Salva Kiir, is Dinka.

Ms Sooka said the Government had requested international humanitarian aid for new arrivals, "while at the same time denying accessto citizens who are starving in opposition areas".

South Sudan'sARMY has refused the head of the UN peacekeeping mission access to the Wau Shilluk area, she said.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but collapsed into violence in late 2013 when the rivalry between Mr Kiir and his then deputy, Riek Machar, ignited a civil war that has often followed ethnic lines.

As well as famine and ethnic conflict, the war unleashed an epidemic of rape, uprooted nearly 2 million people and created more than 1.5 million refugees, while a cholera outbreak spread unchecked northwards down the Nile.

according to the commission, the Government "obstructs and manipulates" aid for famine-hit, opposition-controlled areas, risking even greater catastrophe.

Ms Sooka said the Opposition had also contributed to the famine by attacking government installations, looting convoys and terrorising communities suspected of supporting the Government or the Dinka tribe.

Calls for action to end rights abuses

Ms Sooka told the Human Rights Council the deterioration of human rights in South Sudan was directly attributable to the impunity that continues unabated.

"Alleged perpetrators still occupy senior political and military positions," she said.

Under an August 2015 peace deal, the African Union and South Sudan were supposed to set up a "hybrid court" based on a mix of their laws to prosecute suspects who include top political and military figures.

Ms Sooka told the unhrc the African Union was making itself complicit in South Sudan's bloodshed by failing to set up the court, saying the court needed to be operational by the end of the year to stop the "massive" increase in gross human rights violations in the past nine months.

"A small coterie of South Sudan's political leaders show total disregard not just for international human rights norms but for the welfare of their own people," she said.

"They have squandered the oil wealth and plundered the country resources.

"There can be no more delay, no more excuses. The alternative is a policy of appeasement, making us complicit in the bloodshed that is happening."

Ms Sooka said if South Sudan could not protect its own civilians, the international community must take steps to hold perpetrators to account.

However, South Sudan's Justice Minister, Paulino Wanawilla Unango, told the council he did not agree with the commission's portrayal of his country.

"It will never be a fair investigation," he said.

He said the commission team had only visited UN sites for protecting civilians in four towns and had not reflected the Government's views in its report.

Ken Scott, a member of the commission of inquiry, said there were doubts the hybrid court would ever be created to investigate alleged crimes.

"There is no reason to think that a robust hybrid court will be set up any time soon by the African Union, if ever," he said.

"Indeed some senior officials have told us that it will never happen — we hope that's wrong."

Government claims possibility of genocide fading

South Sudan's Government and army did not immediately comment, however in February, First Vice-President Taban Deng told the Human Rights Council the decision to redraw state borders in theCOUNTRY had created peaceBETWEEN the Shilluk and Dinka tribes.

"I can state with confidence that the notion of a looming genocide and possible ethnic cleansing is fading away," Mr Deng said.


(c) 2017 Reuters

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