January 24, 2021

South Sudan’s crisis: Mass killings and the international response

Just six years after South Sudan’s victorious independence, a civil war is threatening humanitarian rights. In the first Baker Café of the spring semester, Eric Keels explores the war’s ramifications.

Photo by Adrian Godboldt

According to Dr. Eric Keels, a post-doctoral in global security, South Sudan’s civil war conflict has quickly descended into “ethnic cleansing,” making the fear of genocide more plausible.

Students gathered in the Howard Baker Center on Feb. 2 to discuss the war that is responsible for approximately 3 million displaced South Sudanese citizens as well as the death of another 50,000.

After its hard-won establishment as a country, the independence celebration was short lived. Just two years after launching its experiment in self-governance, South Sudan entered into a civil war that has the potential to destabilize the entire region.

When asked about America’s national interests in the region, Keel provided keen insight. “What defines our national interests, whether we ascribe it our economics, or to our core values? The values of compassion and the desire to limit suffering that all Americans hold, these core values should be enough of a reason to persuade me, you and any government official to act on the crisis occurring in South Sudan.”

Military intervention or humanitarian intervention have both been suggested to curb the violence from the war. However, each of these pose risks of a spike in civilian casualties. Any civilian casualties caused by foreign forces would cause native forces to retaliate.

Keels believes that America can be the force that persuades countries to comply with sanctions. Ideas involve arms embargoes to limit weapons sold to the region as well as targeted sanctions to tighten direct investments into these conflicts. The implementation of stricter laws relies heavily on compliance from countries within the United Nations. Keels notes that a current issue is Trump’s administration persuading or dissuading other members of the international community to agree to take action.

Both the Obama administration and Bush administration have made efforts to help with the conflicts in South Sudan. Officials are unsure if/how the Trump administration will continue this effort, especially since the recent executive order has banned immigration from the country of Sudan.

In the latter portion of discussion, there was talk of what can be done on an international scale in order to prevent any more humanitarian crisis issues.

“Have a conversation with somebody first, and if you guys want to do something… try to raise awareness on social media, but also have conversations with people in person and then try to coordinate in person,” said Keels. “That builds stronger ties for actually solving crisis rather than just liking something on Facebook.”

Informing others through conversations can go a long way in pushing the new administration to act, according to Keels. He believes understanding and learning the terrors of  civil war is an important aspect to “spark a movement” like the Kony 2012 campaign, which had an impact in our governments involvement in Uganda.

Adam Pani, a senior majoring in Political Science, said he was interested in the meeting because “it [South Sudan] is a relatively new country, founded just this decade.”

Dr. Keel urged attendees to spread awareness of the atrocities occurring in South Sudan by discussing the issue with friends, family and even calling state representatives.

Find your Tennessee legislator here.


Featured image by Adrian Godbold

Edited by McKenzie Manning

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