AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Justin Lynch has been reporting on human rights violations in South Sudan for the past year. Then last Tuesday, government agents arrested him, brought him to the airport and sent him out of the country. Lynch is a reporter for The Associated Press, and he was told he was being deported for his reporting. He wrote about ethnic violence in South Sudan and reported on a U.N. warning that the country could be at risk of genocide. It's in the middle of a civil war that began in 2013. Justin Lynch joins us on Skype from Kampala, Uganda. Welcome to the show.
JUSTIN LYNCH: Thank you very much for having me.
CHANG: So what was the situation like in South Sudan before you were forced to leave?
LYNCH: Sure. So South Sudan has been in a civil war since December 2013. There was a peace deal that was signed in August 2015 that didn't really work. Fighting continued across the country, and in July, hundreds of people died in the capital of Juba. And since then, there's been a steep rise in ethnic violence. We've seen a significant rise in hate speech on social media, things like Facebook and Twitter. And in the past couple of weeks and months, we've seen a rise in ethnically targeted killings and the real suffering of civilians across the country.
CHANG: Is that what the civil war is fundamentally about, divisions, ethnic divisions?
LYNCH: Well, I think that's a complicated question. I think in December 2013, it was a rivalry between the president, Salva Kiir, and the vice president, Riek Machar. And that has kind of turned into an ethnic conflict now. The Dinka, the tribe of President Kiir, and the Nuer and other tribes of Reik Machar. But, you know, there is some overlap in this narrative, so it's not a perfect ethnic conflict.
CHANG: Why has the conflict escalated? Why has the U.N. now said the country could be at risk of genocide?
LYNCH: Yeah. Well, I think that what we've seen is in some towns we have seen a huge rise in the military targeting civilians. In November, I visit a town called Yei, and this was a region that had had no fighting during the last couple of years. And after the July violence, this region saw a lot of killings by government soldiers. And when you talk to civilians, I mean, they describe some of the most gruesome and horrifying sights possible. Woman talked about being raped by soldiers based on their ethnicity. Men talked about being targeted for killings and arrest. And I even talked to one police officer who said that when he was going to collect bodies in the streets that had been killed, the Army had attacked him. And so this is one of the main reasons why the U.N. highlighted the risk of genocide in South Sudan and that there is ethnic cleansing happening in the country.
CHANG: And the U.N.'s Human Rights division announced it will hold a special session on Wednesday to discuss the situation. Is that just too little too late at this point?
LYNCH: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people are just now coming to the issue, and they're now saying, oh, well, this is a huge crisis and we have to act now. And, you know, we saw this killing happening in 2013 when the civil war first started. And for those just coming to the game now, it is way too late to start having these grand ideas about how to reshape the country. So we're talking in a matter of days and weeks and not months.
CHANG: What can the U.N. actually do to address this situation, though?
LYNCH: Well, I think one of the things that the U.N. has been unfortunately known for since the Rwandan genocide is that its peacekeepers fail to protect civilians.
LYNCH: And I think South Sudan has been one of the biggest tests for the U.N., in, you know, had they really adapted? Can they protect civilians? And so what we've seen so far is that they have had trouble figuring out, you know, when they can use force, when they can fire on the government. So I think that when we talk about what the U.N. can do, there are about 12,000 peacekeepers in the country now. And so they are going to have a big task ahead of them trying to protect civilians from this violence, you know, whether it's the rebels attacking them or whether it's the government attacking them.
CHANG: Justin Lynch with The Associated Press, thank you so much for speaking with us.
LYNCH: Thank you.
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