NEW YORK – Blood feuds and oil curse another African country today, this one
barely an infant, coddled by Western governments with lofty words but
insufficient aid: the recently independent South Sudan.
Some 45,000 South
Sudanese residents have sought refuge from United Nations peacekeepers in the
past 10 days. That amounts to roughly a third of the population of Jordan’s
Zaatari camp, the largest camp for refugees fleeing the violence in Syria since
that war began in 2011. In total, over 100,000 South Sudanese are already
displaced after a week and a half.
Inter-communal killing has infected
every South Sudanese state, with at least three mass graves identified on
Monday. The UN expects to find more.
“Mass extrajudicial killings, the
targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary
detentions have been documented in recent days,” Navi Pillay, the UN’s high
commissioner on human rights, said on Christmas Eve.
During the Rwandan
genocide in 1994, the mass killing of ethnic Tutsis was promoted live on radio
Local journalists failed to pick up on the genocide for days.
But on Christmas Day this year, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon used the radio
as a platform to reach the South Sudanese people with a distant message of
“South Sudan is not alone,” he claimed. “We know many of you are
suffering from horrific attacks. Families are fleeing their homes. Innocent
civilians are being targeted because of their ethnicity. This is a grave
violation of human rights.”
He continued, “I once again call on the
country’s leaders to settle their differences peacefully, and I underscore their
responsibility to protect civilians.”
The responsibility to protect, or
“R2P,” is a principle of international law that considers sovereignty a
responsibility, and not a right; once that responsibility has been shirked – or
worse, flagrantly mocked – the international community has a moral duty to
Justifying a military campaign against neighboring Georgia in
2008, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that R2P was only
considered valid in the West “when people see some trouble in Africa.” His
government has not considered R2P applicable in the Syrian crisis.
with South Sudan, Lavrov’s comments are relevant not because they are
fundamentally sound, but because they underscore an unfortunate truth: This
principle most obviously applies to the victims of African strife. It was
constructed in Geneva and New York after Rwanda, and here we are
Violence spread on Wednesday to South Sudan’s Upper Nile region,
which produces over 200,000 barrels of oil per day and provides the government
with a modicum of income.
That output alone is roughly a third of Iran’s
oil exports at this point, which fluctuate between 700,000- 800,000
Fighters loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar, have
concentrated their fighting in oil-rich states in the country’s northeast. But
ethnic violence has permeated Juba, the capital city, worrying UN peacekeepers
on the ground that its spread will be difficult to contain.
leadership is an important reminder that this conflict does not perfectly
reflect the devastation in Rwanda and Darfur. The crisis in South Sudan is
primarily political and is not led by one ethnic group’s desire to suppress
another. But Machar’s ability to capitalize on deep ethnic divides in his
country may result in similar scenes.
“Those who seek to take or hold
power by violence or division along ethnic lines will not have our support and
may be in violation of international law,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen
Psaki said on Tuesday, announcing efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to
moderate immediate talks between Machar and South Sudan’s nominal president,
US President Barack Obama has informed Congress that he may
take further action in South Sudan, after three V-22 Ospreys – highpriced items
in the US arsenal – came under fire during an attempted evacuation of US
But the American president has made clear whom he intends to
protect in this conflict.
“Action has been directed consistent with my
responsibility to protect US citizens both at home and abroad,” he wrote to
Congress, citing the War Powers Act, “and in furtherance of US national security
and foreign policy interests.”