Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused South Sudanese government forces and the rebels of killing civilians based on their ethnicity. DW spoke to Skye Wheeler, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in South Sudan.
DW: Appalling crimes have been committed against civilians for no other reason than their ethnicity,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement - how did HRW come to such a conclusion?
Sky Wheeler: We spent a good potion of time in Juba and Equatoria over the last couple of weeks and we have talked to around 200 victims who are also witnesses and the picture we got from all of this is a real horrific one. We have seen cases where civilians have been targeted or killed or arrested or beaten for no reason rather than their ethnicity. It is a very sad and disturbing dimension of this conflict which currently is happening in South Sudan. It is in Juba in the capital where dozens of Nuer men were rounded up, taken to a room. They were around three hundred people in a room and the police shot through the windows and killed almost everyone, that's definitely a single case that we have come across. But there were many other cases as well, where men were targeted and killed in the capital.
You have appealed to both sides to stop human rights violations -Do you intend to bring those who committed atrocities to justice?
What we would like to see is a wholly impartial international investigation into human rights violations that have been taking place in this conflict. It was very good to see last December that the African Union called for a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violation during this crisis. That was a very speedy decision from the AU part. What would be great is to create a joint force with the UN. The UN has a lot of experience and expertise. They have technical people who could do the investigative work. I think this will be a very important step to take together with international community as a whole, ensuring that they use all the leverage they have with both leaders in the government, the rebels and the anti-government forces to ensure that attacks against civilians immediately end.
The International Crisis Group estimated that South Sudan's death toll could be as high as 10,000. What is your take on that?
We don't know how many people have been killed in this conflict. We don't have a complete figure; this is not what we Human Rights Watch would do. We hope that the UN will put out a figure with a good estimate. They have said that the figure is much higher than they estimated 1,000 at the end of the first week of the conflict. This conflict is over four weeks old. We have seen ongoing conflicts in the eastern part of the country including attacks from big towns. I am sure the figure will be very high.
There have been some mild comparisons between South Sudan and Rwanda. Do you think that the situation now in South Sudan could eventually if not handled may be turn into something like what happened in Rwanda?
The conflict began because of political tensions. It is a different context and a different situation to what happened in Rwanda. Having said that these ethnic tensions and ethnic attacks are very real and it is urgent that South Sudanese civil society, the government and the leaders from all different parts of the society, also regional leaders and international community, throw their weight behind and find a solution to end this crisis. There are peace negotiations happening now between the government and the anti-government leaders, but until now they have not managed to produce any kind of tangible results. Pressure should be put on both sides to ensure that civilians will be protected whatever happens in the near future.
Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu