South Sudan is suffering a rise in hate speech and incitement to violence against certain ethnic groups which could result in mass killings, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said through his spokeswoman on Tuesday (October 25).
Animosity between South Sudan’s Dinka ethnic group and the people of its southwestern Equatoria region surged this month when buses on roads south of the capital Juba were attacked as they passed through Equatoria region.
The government said 21 civilians were killed in one ambush on October 8, but rumours that as many as 200 Dinka had been killed circulated on social media, followed by calls for revenge.
“Letters with graphic warnings of violence against Equatorians have been left outside the offices of several humanitarian organisations,” Ravina Shamdasani told reporters at a briefing at the U.N. in Geneva.
She said ethnic Dinka youth groups “have issued warnings to Equatorians that they will be ‘eliminated’”.
“News of these killings of Dinka civilians who were on a bus – it spread across the country along the rumours about what exactly happened and that has sparked this ethnic … hatred between the groups.”
An attack on one Equatorian and a number of letters threatening violence and “elimination” of Equatorians in the north-western region of Aweil prompted the evacuation of nearly 100 humanitarian staff, a statement from Zeid said.
“These kinds of threats can have an explosive effect,” Shamdasani said.
In his statement, Zeid urged President Salva Kiir, himself a Dinka, to condemn the incitement to violence and to take urgent measures to defuse the tensions. He also expressed concern that Kiir said on October 19 that he would personally lead military operations against the armed groups responsible for the killings in the Equatoria region.
Rivalry between Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former vice president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, led to South Sudan’s first war in December 2013 when Kiir sacked Machar. Machar fled to Sudan from where he has urged his forces to re-organise for armed resistance to Kiir’s government.