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South Sudan faces threat of more killings as country jumps in ‘Peoples Under Threat’ 2012 ranking

23 May 2012

Africa’s newest sovereign state, South Sudan, is the highest riser in this year’s internationally acclaimed global ranking Peoples under Threat, indicating that the risk of further ethnic killings in the country remains critical, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says.

In South Sudan, a new entrant in the top ten, a history of cattle raiding between the Lou Nuer and the Murle, as well as other groups, has developed into inter-communal violence on a highly organised scale in Jonglei state, affecting some 120,000 people. Tens of thousands of refugees have also fled across the border into South Sudan in recent months, escaping Sudanese government shelling of communities in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state.

‘The attacks in South Sudan, though often labeled vendetta cattle raids, have deeper underlying causes related to poverty, the ubiquity of small arms and marginalization of ethnic minorities,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director.

‘Competition between ethnic groups over scarce resources has escalated the formation of militia groups and a breakdown of traditional structures of authority. Despite recent peace accords, the risk remains that this will continue to spark violence and threaten the stability of the new nation.’

Now in its seventh successive year, the Peoples under Threat index is an early warning tool compiled using authoritative data. It shows that risk levels of mass killings are also critical in other African states such as Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

The greatest risk for the peoples of both Sudan and South Sudan come from the series of conflicts escalating along the border areas between the two countries, constituting ‘a serious threat to international peace and security’ according to a UN Security Council resolution adopted in May 2012.

There have been repeated clashes between armies of the two countries, cross-border incursions and support to proxy militias. South Sudan now hosts more than 105,000 refugees from the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, including those fleeing months of shelling by Sudanese government forces in the Nuba Mountains.

Somalia, the Peoples under Threat perennial table topper, still poses the greatest risk of mass killings on the continent. When a severe drought brought famine to the southern part of the country, including areas inhabited by the vulnerable Bantu minority, the delivery of emergency aid was delayed by militia groups, increasing the death toll and displacing many.   Al Shabaab roadside bombs and attacks are still a regular occurrence.

‘While holding out hope for democratization, political transitions in South Sudan, Somalia and in Arab North Africa have yet to reduce the threat of mass killing, and in many transitional states the risk has actually increased,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director.

In Ethiopia, the government continues to restrict public space through systematic repression, detention and torture of political opponents including many from ethnic minorities. The controversial ‘villagisation‘ programme in Gambella has forcibly displaced tens of thousands of Anuak and Nuer, and violent repression continues against Somalis in the Ogaden, already hit by food insecurity.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which comes in at number seven, armed conflict returned a number of times to the east over the last year, most recently in clashes between the Congolese armed forces and the dissident troops of a Congolese general under indictment by the International Criminal Court. The population throughout much of the Kivus and in parts of Province Orientale remains in a state of permanent insecurity.

Elsewhere on the continent, Libya, Mali and Egypt are among the significant risers in this year’s internationally acclaimed global ranking Peoples under Threat, which lists countries where communities are most at threat of mass killing, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says.

Notes to Editors

  • The Peoples under Threat survey seeks to identify those peoples or groups that are most under threat of genocide, mass killing or other systematic violent repression in 2012. It is created by compiling authoritative data on the known antecedents to genocide or mass political killing. As an early warning tool, it has been widely used or cited by UN officials and other human rights and conflict prevention practitioners. Download the briefing here and access the online map here.
  • Previous Peoples under Threat surveys
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • Click on the links in the press release above to find more information for the minority communities mentioned.

Interview opportunities are available with:

  • Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director (English), Minority Rights Group International
  • Carl Söderbergh (English/Swedish), MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications
  • Didier Kamundu Batundi, DRC (French and English), Secretary General, Solidarité pour la promotion de la paix ([email protected])
  • Paul Oleyo, Executive Director, Boma Development Initiatve (BDI – South Sudan) ([email protected])

For more information or for an embargoed copy of the Peoples under Threat rankings table, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].