ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now to the world's youngest nation. South Sudan is being ripped apart by ethnic conflict. The United Nations and human rights groups paint a disturbing picture. They say the government is trying to silence independent witnesses to the growing violence. In recent weeks, South Sudan has kicked out international aid workers and journalists. More now from NPR's Jason Beaubien.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Over the last week, two officials from one of the biggest aid groups working in South Sudan were ordered out of the country.
JOEL CHARNY: It's hugely concerning, and I think it's concerning in part because we truly don't know why.
BEAUBIEN: Joel Charny's the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council's U.S. office. He says the South Sudanese authorities gave no explanation for the deportations.
CHARNY: From our standpoint, for no reason whatsoever, our country director is detained for nearly 24 hours then asked to leave. Now an area manager is asked to leave. And it's puzzling because we don't know what we've done wrong. But it's also within the context of other problems that other organizations are having as well.
BEAUBIEN: The South Sudanese Ministry of Information didn't respond to two requests by NPR for comment on this. South Sudan is in the midst of a devastating humanitarian crisis. The three-year civil war has driven millions of people from their homes. Crops have been destroyed. The economy is in a free fall. Heavily armed young men loyal to various leaders are jockeying to control different parts of the country.
The Norwegian Refugee Council has been working in South Sudan for more than a decade. And Charny says they focus on getting food, water and shelter to South Sudanese who've lost everything in the ongoing conflict.
CHARNY: It's an incredibly difficult context right now. I mean, with all the ethnic tensions, the feeling that we're in a situation that could blow at any moment, there's virtually no infrastructure outside the capital - I mean, South Sudan is one of the hardest places to work in the world.
BEAUBIEN: And it's not just the Norwegian Refugee Council that's recently run into trouble in the country. Last week, a reporter from The Associated Press was deported. Before that, in November, staff from two other international aid groups were kicked out.
The U.N. reports that there were 100 incidents last month in which humanitarian access was blocked, and two-thirds of those attacks involved violence or looting. The U.N. Human Rights Commission says it's found evidence of systematic rape, ethnic cleansing, silencing of journalists and a hostile environment for foreign aid workers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
YASMIN SOOKA: Humanitarian workers face threats and intimidation on a daily basis.
BEAUBIEN: Testifying this week at a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Yasmin Sooka, the head of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said independent voices are being muzzled as atrocities are being committed with impunity. The U.N. worries that the country could be headed towards a Rwanda-like genocide.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SOOKA: The commission's recent visit to South Sudan suggests that a steady process of ethnic cleansing is already underway in some parts of the country. We don't use that expression lightly, but targeted displacement along ethnic lines is taking place through killing, abductions, rape, looting and the burning of homes.
BEAUBIEN: The escalating conflict has made millions of South Sudanese dependent on international food aid just to survive. Now the government and other armed groups are making it increasingly difficult for international agencies to even deliver that assistance.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.