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S.Sudan 'should end ethnic killings and rape'

November 11, 2016

Adama Dieng, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, has just concluded a five day tour of South Sudan. DW spoke to him about his findings and meetings he held with the authorities.

UN Adama Dieng UN-Sonderberater für die Verhinderung von Völkermord
Image: picture alliance/Pacific Press Agency/A. Lohr-Jones

DW: Fighting in South Sudan has been going on for almost three years. Thousands have been killed, two and a half million displaced from their homes, there is a major hunger crisis and both sides - rebels and government forces - have been accused of atrocities. Under such circumstances how great is the risk of genocide in South Sudan?

Adama Dieng: The main reason I decided to travel to South Sudan was the inflammatory rhetoric and the name-calling which have been accompanying the targeted killings and the rape of members of particular ethnic groups. Just a couple of months ago I was telling people about the damage which was caused by RTLM (Radio-télévision libre des mille collines, Ed.), the 'radio of hatred' in Rwanda. Had we prevented RTLM from broadcasting all types of incitement, maybe we could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda. As a lesson from the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, we can only express concern with what has been developing recently in South Sudan, which led to many people, particularly in Yei River State, fleeing their villages, to leave Yei town and seek refuge either in neighboring Uganda or move to other places in South Sudan. Why? Because they felt that the Dinka were controlling.

You are referring to recent events when former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, fled the country, leaving President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, in charge of things? Then last month, many Dinka civilians were killed in an ambush in Yei River State.

That prompted of course retaliations from members of the Dinka community, but this should have been stopped from the beginning. And it was a bit unfortunate that when President Salva Kiir gave a speech on 19 October, people interpreted that speech as a signal that "we will come and take measures against you from the Equatoria who have been attacking our people, the Dinka people." As you may know, Equatoria is one of the areas where the troops remained peaceful even during the events of 2013 (when Kiir first dismissed Machar as vice president, Ed.). But this time when Riek Machar fled the country through Equatoria state, we ended up seeing all this violence spread not only in the usual areas, but also affect that place. That is why I think that it is extremely important that every effort be made today by the authorities to bring an end to these inflammatory speeches.

In your assessment, were the South Sudanese authorities aware of the risk that ethnic clashes could turn into genocide?

I clearly delivered the message to them that the situation is not hopeless. There is still room to fend off further escalation of this ethnically-fuelled tension. But there is conflict almost all over the country. And the lid is off the kettle and the security apparatus is so fragmented that no-one has permanent control anymore. So with arms everywhere, a small conflict is popping up everywhere. Recently President Salva Kiir asked the governors to now take control of security in their respective 28 states. This needs of course to be accompanied by accountability measures. We cannot allow perpetrators of serious crimes to go away without facing justice to account for their crimes - when you have an old woman of 84 years being raped, I find that simply unacceptable.

Were you well received in South Sudan - one might perhaps assume that not every country would wish to be visited by a special advisor on the prevention of genocide?

I should say that I was very thankful as to the authorities of South Sudan for authorizing my visit, and I will still repeat also to note that the recommendations I made were well received. It is now one thing to show signs of receptivity. Another thing is implementing, taking measures. And that is where I'm waiting to see what will be the next step and I already offered to support. There is such a great level of mistrust today between the civilian population and the military that we really need to try to promote dialogue at the local and international level. What is important now is that President Salva Kiir, who is in charge of law and order, takes the measures which are required to bring to a halt the escalation of the ongoing ethnically-fuelled violence.

How well understood are the mechanisms that cause genocide. What are the tell-tale signs that policymakers, aid workers and others should be looking out for?     

Well, genocide is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. It requires resources, time and planning. That's where one can see that it is possible to prevent it. If you say that it requires time, that means you can already identify the early signs. I have issued in February this year a framework of analysis for the prevention of atrocity crime, which you can access on our website. This analysis shows which are factors are for crimes of genocide and which are factors for crimes against humanity and war crimes. You would notice that there are fourteen different factors and among those you have eight which are common to those three categories of crime and two which are specific to each category of crime. For instance when it comes to genocide that is the only one where you have signs of an intention to destroy in whole or in part a protected group. One of the indicators is the expression of public euphoria at having control over a protected group and its existence. If you take Rwanda, you can see that this expression of public euphoria was around the Radio des mille collines. What I can say today is, inflammatory speech is one of the indicators and it is increasing today in South Sudan.

Adama Dieng is the UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide

Interview : Isaac Mugabi.