KIRUKU: From hope to despair; who will stop the war in Juba?
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has revealed what the world knew all along but chose to turn a blind eye – that South Sudan now has the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. More than 1.6 million people have been internally displaced or fled to neighbouring countries in the past eight months.
The human suffering in South Sudan is not just pathetic, but dehumanising and humiliating. And as in every violent conflict, women and children bear the brunt of it all. The number of deaths of women and children due to hunger and violence is alarming. Cases of rape and defilement are skyrocketing.
Women and children are being slaughtered by soldiers who are said to be using knives for the massacres to save their ammunition. The current famine, which is threatening millions with starvation, is driving brutal conflicts to alarming heights.
Whole villages have been reduced to ashes, while attacks on hospitals and churches are on the rise. Bodies have been found dumped in rivers, young girls are allegedly being held as sexual slaves as both young and old women are gang-raped, and young boys forcibly recruited to become child soldiers. The situation cannot get any worse.
More than 5.5 million people – almost half of the population – will not have a reliable source of food by July, according to the UN. This manmade catastrophe has been created by the ongoing conflict and worsened by government inaction. The escalating fighting in Equatoria – the food basket of South Sudan – has led to significant displacement of civilians and sadly disrupted food production, making an already bad situation worse.
The rate of displacement is alarming; the fact that those displaced are seeking refuge in East African Community countries that are already ravaged by drought as well is not helping matters. Most of those displaced by the violence are crossing into Uganda and Kenya. Kenya is already on the top list of countries hard hit by drought and the United Nations has sent an appeal for donations to address the crisis in Kenya.
New arrivals in Uganda rose from 2,000 per day to 6,000 in February, making the situation dire. World leaders must adhere to the agreement they arrived at during the UN Summit for Refugees in September last year. Leaders from around the world agreed to create a refugee response framework that brings together humanitarian and development efforts.
It is unfortunate that aid for South Sudan is only 8 per cent funded at $781.8 million. Already, Uganda urgently needs funding to the tune of $267 million to handle the refugee crisis.
In the midst of the escalating human rights abuses and political violence in the world’s youngest country, one begs to ask: Have EAC leaders done enough? What has the international community done to bring a state of normalcy in South Sudan?
It is inhuman, criminal and insensitive of South Sudan political leaders to use ethnic divisions to gain political mileage. It is an international crime for a government to target its own civilians – on the basis of ethnicity – for killings, abductions, unlawful detentions, deprivation of liberty, rapes and sexual violence, burning of villages and looting.
It is unfortunate that soon after South Sudan gained independence in 2011, political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy Riek Machar led to simmering conflict that later erupted into violence in 2013.
It is even more disheartening that both the warring sides have signed at least seven peace deals, which have subsequently been broken and fresh violence ensued.
Foreign troops sent to maintain peace have not helped matters. In fact, one of the demands of the rebels during the August 2015 peace agreement was withdrawal of foreign troops, some of whom were accused of taking sides in the conflict.
The region has a role to play in returning South Sudan to a state of normalcy. Uganda, which has been accused of supporting Kiir’s side, must remain a conciliator in the conflict so as to protect civilians.
Kenya and Ethiopia, which have been involved in mediation between the warring groups, must also bring pressure to ensure that conciliatory talks are put back in top gear and that both the warring groups adhere to peace agreements signed.
The international community must demand that a ceasefire be in place to protect innocent civilians who are bearing the brunt of the violence. They must also adhere to agreements on financial support to neighbouring countries hosting the refugees. But above all, the war in South Sudan must be stopped.
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