An alarming rise in hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups in South Sudan has prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to issue a warning that if the community and political leaders at the highest levels do not rein it in, mass atrocities in the country could erupt.
According to news release yesterday from the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR), over the past two weeks, letters with graphic warnings of violence against those from the Equatoria region were left outside humanitarian organizations in Aweil West in the north-western part of the country. The letters have been attributed to the Dinka community, and warned Equatorians to either leave or be “eliminated.”
The threats included those of violence, mutilation, and murder. Several state officials in the region have reportedly joined the hate speech. An Equatorian staff member of a humanitarian organization was attacked on 16 October in Aweil Town and 104 staff members of humanitarian organizations have been evacuated.
The threats followed the killing of an unconfirmed number of Dinka civilians who were traveling by bus to Juba on 8 October, as well as a separate attack on another three buses two days later. Social media perpetuated rumours about the number of civilians killed and called for revenge against Equatorians.
“Hateful rhetoric in South Sudan – particularly if it is exploited for political purposes – can have devastating consequences for entire communities, quickly spiralling into a cycle of revenge attacks,” said High Commissioner Zeid. He urged President Salva Kiir, political and community leaders to “urgently and unambiguously” condemn the incitement to violence as well as to take rapid measures to reduce tensions.
“One important step,” he added, “would be to promptly and transparently investigate the violence of 8 and 10 October and to hold perpetrators criminally responsible. Those who are behind these terrible threats to Equatorians must also be held to account.”
The Acting Governor of Awil state issued a press release in which he called on all citizens to join the Government in its condemnation of the “alleged threats directed towards our Equatorian brothers and sisters,” which Mr. Zeid welcomed.
However, he remained concerned over a statement issued by President Kiir on 19 October in which the President said he would personally lead military operations against the armed groups responsible for the killings in the region. Mr. Zeid said that the statement has been interpreted as ethnically driven.