The Jewish im­per­a­tive to speak out about South Su­dan

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Perspectives - Nor­man L. Ep­stein

There is no deny­ing the egre­gious crimes per­pe­trated by the di­a­bol­i­cal triad of Syria, Rus­sia and Iran against the de­fence­less civil­ians in Aleppo. We have wit­nessed the stream of un­con­scionable atroc­i­ties flow­ing into our tele­vi­sion screens and so­cial me­dia on a daily ba­sis.

Yet, once again, the United Na­tions and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity are too par­a­lyzed to act.

But there is an­other civil war on­go­ing the last three years which has de­scended into the same depth of de­prav­ity and scale of atroc­i­ties as the con­flict in Syria. It is in the nascent coun­try of South Su­dan. Un­for­tu­nately, as usual, Africa barely reg­is­ters a rip­ple in the ocean of world af­fairs. On Nov. 28, 2016, the United States Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum’s Geno­cide Pre­ven­tion Com­mit­tee sounded the alarm, not­ing that con­di­tions are ripe in South Su­dan for an­other “Rwanda-like” geno­cide.

South Su­dan se­ceded from the Repub­lic of Su­dan in July 2011, fol­low­ing a ref­er­en­dum. Prior to se­ces­sion, the peo­ple of south Su­dan – who are eth­ni­cally African and pre­dom­i­nately Chris­tian –fought two long, bloody civil wars against the north­ern gov­ern­ment in Khar­toum, dom­i­nated by eth­ni­cally Arab and Mus­lim ma­jor­ity.

In 1955, when the shack­les of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism were re­moved and the Repub­lic of Su­dan was ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated, the Arab north took over the reins of gov­ern­ment and dis­en­fran­chised the African south po­lit­i­cally, cul­tur­ally, and eco­nom­i­cally. The south re­belled. Later, af­ter a brief respite from war in the 1970s, civil war re­sumed when oil was dis­cov­ered in the south and in re­sponse to the north’s at­tempt to Is­lam­i­cize the south and en­act Sharia law.

The back­drop of the Dar­fur geno­cide, nearly a decade ago, was pred­i­cated on the gov­ern­ment of Khar­toum putting down an­other re­bel­lion in western Su­dan against African Mus­lims. It was in this con­text, af­ter a com­pre­hen­sive peace agree­ment be­tween the two sides, that the south voted over­whelm­ingly to sep­a­rate giv­ing birth to the new coun­try of South Su­dan.

Of course, there had been tribal ten­sions among the African tribes be­fore, and even out­breaks of vi­o­lence, but bat­tling the com­mon en­emy in Khar­toum forged a united front. As the fledg­ling coun­try of South Su­dan emerged, it seemed to tran­si­tion seam­lessly into democ­racy as elec­tions were held. Not with­stand­ing its poverty, there was peace and sta­bil­ity.

Then, in De­cem­ber 2013, vi­o­lence erupted in South Su­dan. It started as a po­lit­i­cal dis­pute be­tween Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and his former vice-pres­i­dent, Riek Machar. Kiir ac­cused Machar of plan­ning a coup against him. As a re­sult, vi­o­lent clashes broke out be­tween sol­diers loyal to each man. Both lead­ers re­cruited sol­diers from their re­spec­tive tribal groups – Kiir’s Dinka tribe, the largest, pit­ted against Machar’s Nuer tribe, the next big­gest in size.

Both sides have tar­geted at­tacks on civil­ians from the other’s eth­nic group. South Su­dan is lit­tered with mass graves as sol­diers from both sides have com­mit­ted large-scale rape, tor­ture and mass mur­der. Ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates, up to 300,000 peo­ple have been killed. Ap­prox­i­mately three mil­lion more, in a coun­try of 12 mil­lion, have been dis­placed – close to two mil­lion in­ter­nally and one mil­lion more to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

Back in late Novem­ber, the U.S. Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum called upon “the po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­nity lead­ers in South Su­dan to ac­tively com­bat hate speech and make it clear vi­o­lence against civil­ians will not be tol­er­ated.” The United Na­tions spe­cial ad­viser for the pre­ven­tion of geno­cide, Adam Dieng, has also ex­pressed his alarm “of the in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric, stereo­typ­ing, and name call­ing” that de­hu­man­izes and den­i­grates the other side.

We must strongly urge Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and our gov­ern­ment to take in­ter­na­tional lead­er­ship in ad­dress­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in South Su­dan. The feck­less UN peace­keep­ing forces must be sig­nif­i­cantly aug­mented to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble civil­ians. Peace talks must recom­mence in earnest. Arms em­bar­goes and eco­nomic sanc­tions against South Su­danese lead­ers must be at­tempted.

I re­main in­cred­u­lous that barely any ink has been spilled, images shown or voices raised with re­spect to dis­turb­ing events de­vel­op­ing in South Su­dan. But the Jewish com­mu­nity can help change that. Jews must con­tinue to be the ca­nary in the coal mine when­ever the ne­far­i­ous prospect of geno­cide rears its ugly head. The Jewish com­mu­nity did so dur­ing the Dar­fur geno­cide, and we must heed the call once more and mar­shal our re­sources.

Con­di­tions are ripe in South Su­dan for an­other ‘Rwanda-like’ geno­cide

Nor­man L. Ep­stein is a physi­cian and a former leader in the Cana­dian Dar­fur Move­ment.


A young girl flies the flag of South Su­dan.

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