KOBOKO, Uganda – South Sudan’s government has begun a campaign of “population engineering” to relocate people over their ethnicity, a United Nations expert said Tuesday, as civil war continues under warnings of genocide.
Yasmin Sooka told the U.N. Human Rights Council that a government redrawing of state borders has depopulated ethnic Shilluk and Nuer inhabitants of the Upper Nile region.
Aid workers estimate that 2,000 mostly Dinka people were transported to Wau Shilluk town after fighting caused Shilluk people to flee, Sooka said. President Salva Kiir is Dinka.
The government then asked that the new arrivals get international humanitarian aid “while at the same time denying access to citizens who are starving in opposition areas,” Sooka said.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013, and a peace deal backed by the United States collapsed in July. Fighting has spread to new parts of the country since then, and the U.N. has warned of ethnic cleansing.
Sooka reported a “massive increase” in human rights violations over the past nine months in the East African nation. “What’s chilling is that they are occurring in many more parts of the country than before.”
Unlawful arrests, rape, torture and killing have become the norm, the U.N. expert said, describing whole villages burnt to ashes and attacks on hospitals and churches.
Spokespeople for South Sudan’s government and army were not immediately available for comment.
Last month, First Vice President Taban Deng told the Human Rights Council that the decision to redraw the state borders in South Sudan has created peace between the Shilluk and Dinka tribes, according to his statement obtained by reporters.
“I can state with confidence that the notion of a looming genocide and possible ethnic cleansing is fading away,” Deng said.
South Sudan’s government has committed to a hybrid court to investigate war crimes. The African Union has been tasked with creating the body, but progress has been slow.
Ken Scott, a member of the U.N. commission of inquiry on South Sudan, told the Human Rights Council on Tuesday that some officials in the region say the hybrid court will never be created.
Jacob Enoh Eben, a spokesman for the AU, told the reporters earlier this month that the court will be created “as soon as the conditions for its establishment are set,” but he declined to say what actions were being taken.
Sooka said the deterioration of human rights in South Sudan is directly attributable to the impunity that continues unabated.
“Alleged perpetrators still occupy senior political and military positions,” she said.