Global Witness today expressed grave concern about the escalating humanitarian crisis in the world’s most oil-dependent country, as violence spread beyond South Sudan’s capital Juba, to Jonglei and Unity states.
“This week’s fighting is a sober reminder of the fragile peace in South Sudan, where civilians are bearing the brunt of political infighting,” said Global Witness Campaigner Emma Vickers. “The government and rebel forces should cease hostilities immediately, and national leaders should begin talks to end the violence.”
The United Nations (UN) estimates that 400 to 500 people have been killed in five days of fighting and over 20,000 civilians have sought shelter at UN bases in Juba and regional capitals. A UN compound in Jonglei state was breached by rebels and two UN peacekeepers killed.
News of violence in Unity state, including reports of oil workers planning for evacuation, suggests a risk of siege by anti-government forces. Historically, South Sudan’s oil fields have been a target for rebel movements, raising concerns that competition over resources could be a key driver of the unfolding crisis.
On Wednesday, clashes were also reported in restive Jonglei state where an army spokesperson confirmed that the government has lost control of the state capital, Bor, to armed groups said to be loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar. Jonglei, believed to be rich in oil and minerals, has seen violence almost continuously since independence as state forces and rebels vie for control.
“The potential for oil wealth to exacerbate the current power struggle should not be underestimated,” said Vickers. “If rebel forces were to capture the oil fields, they could effectively hold the government to ransom.”
South Sudan reportedly earned US$1.3 billion through oil sales in just five months this year, dwarfing aid given by international donors. Global Witness has repeatedly expressed concerns about weak governance of oil revenues and related risks of corruption and conflict. The rapid disintegration of the rule of law in the face of armed opposition raises serious questions about the government’s ability to safeguard the country’s natural resources.
Emma Vickers on +44 7715 076 548 or +44 207 492 5838 or [email protected]
For more information on the conflict in Jonglei over the last two years please see the Human Rights Watch Report ‘They are Killing Us’, which can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/IYtVEC.