AS THE dry season approaches, the people of South Sudan are in a
"tinderbox", the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad
Al Hussein, has warned.
The country has suffered internal conflict since 15 December
last year, when a political dispute escalated into violence that is
now running along ethnic lines. Speaking on the anniversary of the
outbreak, Prince Hussein said that a high level of mistrust, based
on perceived support for either the government or the opposition,
meant that violence was easily triggered. The end of the rainy
season, which will facilitate the movement of troops, is expected
to increase the risk of blood- shed.
In the past year, the UN estimates that at least 10,000 people
have been killed. About 1.9 million have fled their homes. UNICEF
reports that about 400,000 children are unable to attend school,
and 12,000 have been recruited as child soldiers. It is expected
that four million people - a third of the population - will be in
receipt of humanitarian aid next year.
"The people of South Sudan are living in a tinderbox, with
emotions high, an abundant flow of weapons, and with both sides
recruiting fighters - often forcefully, and including children,"
Prince Hussein said. "The hopelessness in the camps of internally
displaced people is palpable." He urged both sides to use peace
talks in Addis Ababa, which resumed on 18 December, to "avert
another human catastrophe".
In November, the talks, facilitated by the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development, an African trade bloc, led to an
agreement to cease hostilities unconditionally, and bring the war
to an end. But, within days, the opposition accused government
forces of breaking the ceasefire, and fighting broke out again.
The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj,
warned last month that the patience of the international community
with both sides was "wearing thin". The conflict was "brutal,
man-made, and thus ultimately avoidable".
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said on the anniversary
of the conflict that the leaders of South Sudan had "allowed their
personal ambitions to jeopardise the future of an entire
The conflict was triggered when the President, Salva Kiir, an
ethnic Dinka and leader of the ruling SPLM party, accused Riek
Machar, his former deputy, from the Nuer tribe, of attempting to
stage a coup (
News, 20 December, 2013).
Last month, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), Skye
Wheeler, said that civilians had suffered "repeated abuses at the
hands of men in power and their armed forces", and that neither the
South Sudanese government nor the opposition leadership had taken
any action to hold these men to account.