A United Nations expert has warned that South Sudan’s festering civil war could spiral into “genocide.”
There is a “strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines with the potential for genocide,” Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said on Friday.
Dieng, who was speaking at a press conference in the capital Juba, cited recent examples of ethnically targeted rape, civilians being killed with machetes, and villages being burned to the ground.
Dieng said South Sudan was awash with weapons, had an undisciplined military, and was in a humanitarian and economic crisis in which civilians were desperate for employment, adding that all the elements were present for a disaster.
“Genocide is a process,” said Dieng. To stop the process, Dieng proposed a strategy of reconciliation and dialog among the two ethnically divided groups fighting in South Sudan.
Even as Dieng spoke, a radio station was shut down by South Sudan’s National Security Service.
Eye Radio is one of South Sudan’s largest national radio stations and known for what is said to be its message of peace and harmony. It is funded in part by the US Agency for International Development.
On Friday, three officials from the country’s security service seized the keys to Eye Radio’s studios, told journalists to leave, and ordered the head of the station to report to security officials, said Nichola Mandil, a senior journalist with the station.
A spokesman for the security service declined to give an explanation for the shutdown.
When informed that Eye Radio had been shut by the government, Dieng’s voice rose with ire and he said the South Sudan government “should have encouraged, congratulated and used (Eye Radio) as a model and said from now onwards that is the message we want.”
Instead, some of South Sudan’s media and social media have spread hate speech, Dieng said.
Alfred Taban, the chairman of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan, said, “Press freedom has not been OK for a long time. This closure now indicates the situation has not changed and the government is still hostile to the national media.”
In September, Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Lomuro gave a warning to journalists at a press conference. “If you are going to say something which is not correct, something which is going to affect a whole nation and cause harm to the nation, we will go after you, whichever hole you are in. Believe me we will go after you.”
South Sudan descended into chaos when President Salva Kiir from the Dinka tribe in December 2013 accused the former vice president, Riek Machar, from the Nuer tribe, of plotting a coup.
Numerous internationally-mediated attempts to the resolve the dispute have failed.