“The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda,” declared Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UN Human Rights Commission, just last Wednesday. “The international community is under obligation to prevent it.”

The Rwandan Genocide, the mass murder in 1994 of 800,000 ethnic Tutsi by the ethnic Hutsu, is a heavy means of comparison for the events in South Sudan, but perfectly appropriate for the situation:

South Sudan is on the path to genocide.

To understand why, one has to understand the history of South Sudan, and the history of the Sudan, the Central African country it originated from before it seceded in 2011. Since gaining its independence from its colonizers, the United Kingdom and Egypt, in 1956, Sudan had suffered from the dire effects of two bloody civil wars taking place one after another in the years between 1955 to 2005.

With its borders drawn hastily by non-African colonizers, the Sudan served to force together several ethnic groups who had previously been in conflict. Funded by a huge natural source of petroleum the country possessed, the two civil wars were incredibly bloody and, because of the colonialist borders, had explicitly ethnic undertones. Specifically, the first two civil wars centered on the Arab descendants of the original Egyptian colonizers, who controlled the government and made up the government forces, and native Africans, who formed the SPLA to oppose the Arab government. This culminated in the secession of the majority-native African South Sudan in 2011, making it distinct from Sudan as well as the world’s youngest country.

However, since gaining independence, the ethnic groups within the umbrella of ‘native Africans’ in South Sudan have begun an alarmingly ferocious civil war of their own. Namely, these groups include the more populous Dinka and the smaller Nuer, but several other groups, such as the Murle and Shilluk, along with some 60 other groups, are taking part in the conflict as well. This mass of ethnic groups and government/anti government forces–the white army, the SPLA, the SPLA-in opposition–points to worrying signs of a complete ethnic war.

The situation now, as it stands, is incredibly violent. “There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages,” said Sooka in her same report–a claim denied by the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A commission led by the UN also reported deepening conflicts between groups in the past 10 days.

With several armed groups in direct opposition, depraved acts of genocide are becoming commonplace. According to a UN survey, 70% of the women in Juba, a large South Sudanese city, had been raped or sexually assaulted–some reported children as young as two being subject to the violence. This is in addition to other forms of outright mass violence; recently, an entire truck full of citizens was set on fire. Entire cities have been burned to the ground.

While a majority of the violence is being carried out by the SPLA and SPLA-in opposition, a government and anti-government group respectively, the volume of unknown and anonymous ethnic militias is high–making disarming these groups incredibly hard, if not impossible. This outright weaponized violence is in addition to some 4.8 million starving people, and a further 2.8 million displaced.

However, a member of the UN counsel for the prevention of genocide, Adam Dieng, stressed that, since genocide is a process, it can be prevented. “It does not happen overnight,” explained Dieng. “Action can and must be taken now to address some of the factors that could provide fertile ground for genocide. The UN maintains the solution is the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, a comprehensive plan for political reconciliation and ethnic peace in the country. However, until this plan is fully implemented, South Sudan remains embattled in this brutal, horrifying conflict.

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