Leaders in South Sudan have been warned to control rise in ethnic hate speech and incitement of violence against some ethnic groups which could result in mass atrocities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein sounded the caution on Tuesday after threats of violence were issued against people from the Equatoria region and an Equatorian staff member of a humanitarian organisation was attacked in Aweil Town.
“Hateful ethnic 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,” High Commissioner Zeid.
Rumours circulated on social media about the number of civilians killed, calling for revenge attacks against Equatorians.
He urged President Salva Kiir and “all political and community leaders with influence to urgently and unambiguously condemn the incitement to violence and to take urgent measures to defuse the tensions”.
The threats were reported to have emerged in reaction to the killing of an unconfirmed number of Dinka civilians travelling to Juba by bus on October 8, and an attack against another three buses on October 10.
“Rumours circulated on social media about the number of civilians killed, calling for revenge attacks against Equatorians,” a statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.
“Letters, purportedly written by individuals from the Dinka community, warned Equatorians to leave or be ‘eliminated’, with threats of violence, mutilation and murder,” the statement reported, adding that certain state officials in the region have also reportedly joined in the hate speech.
Zeid called for investigation in the October 8 and 10 violence and to hold perpetrators responsible as well as those behind threats against Equatorians.
He however expressed concern at the president’s statement saying he will “personally lead military operations against the armed groups responsible for the killings in the region. The statement has widely been interpreted as ethnically driven”.