Fears Of Genocide In The World's Newest Nation There are fears of a genocide in South Sudan, a country just five years old. Activists say the world is ignoring the crisis as the United Nations and the U.S. go through leadership transitions.

Fears Of Genocide In The World's Newest Nation

Fears Of Genocide In The World's Newest Nation

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There are fears of a genocide in South Sudan, a country just five years old. Activists say the world is ignoring the crisis as the United Nations and the U.S. go through leadership transitions.


Some grim news out of the world's newest nation - South Sudan, where there are new fears of a possible genocide. The U.N. has already reported ethnic cleansing in parts of the country and says the government and the main opposition groups seem to be gearing up for a new round of fighting. And activists say the world isn't paying enough attention. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Associated Press reporter Justin Lynch who was kicked out of South Sudan this week says the humanitarian crisis there is comparable to Syria, and the fighting season is only just beginning.


JUSTIN LYNCH: We are actually in the beginning of the dry season in South Sudan, and, you know, who follows South Sudan know that the dry season is when the fighting begins. And, unfortunately, we're seeing all of the elements that this fighting is going to continue and intensify.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype to the U.S. Institute of Peace, Lynch said the government of South Sudan and the opposition are mobilizing forces in areas that had been spared in recent years. Hate speech is spreading. Rape is widespread, and Lynch reports that the U.N. peacekeepers there are underequipped and weak. All that is happening while the U.S. government is in the throes of transition, so, too, is the U.N. As the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Nancy Lindberg points out.


NANCY LINDBERG: We are at great risk of having a nobody-home situation as we dissolve into the possibility of genocide.

KELEMEN: So what could the U.S. and the U.N. do? Cameron Hudson runs a center for Genocide Prevention at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He says, for one thing, international diplomats working on South Sudan need to stay in the capital Juba, even if it means missing holidays at home.


CAMERON HUDSON: If the signal is that the international community is not here, if the signal is the international community is not paying attention, it's preoccupied with other places and other things, then I think that will be interpreted - I hope not - but I think there's a risk that it could be interpreted as a green light.

KELEMEN: The State Department says it's alarmed by the violence in South Sudan. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has been trying to persuade the Security Council to impose an arms embargo. Republican Congressman Thomas Rooney says that's a step he and others on Capitol Hill have been seeking for the past couple of years.


THOMAS ROONEY: Words aren't enough to stop the raping, starvation, brutalization, murdering of thousands upon thousands of people.

KELEMEN: Rooney says this is not a topic his constituents in Florida really care about, and he's not sure what the incoming Trump administration might do. But Rooney says there is bipartisan support now for a stronger diplomatic push. Activist John Prendergast of the Enough Project says if President Obama doesn't act quickly to show that this is and will remain a priority, South Sudan could haunt him as the Rwanda genocide did for President Clinton.


JOHN PRENDERGAST: This is a legacy issue. Certainly in 1994, no American would have thought that the thing - the continent mattered most to President Clinton after his presidency was 100 days in - that took place in Rwanda. But it is to this day, and so I do think that if things happen and it isn't addressed, this will be something that - very similar fruit for this president.

KELEMEN: He's been pushing the U.S. to go after the money flow to the warring sides in South Sudan. If sanctions work in countering terrorism, Prendergast says, why not for countering genocide? Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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