U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bluntly called on South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and armed opposition leader Riek Machar to "come to their senses" and end 17 months of fighting in the world's newest nation.
"There are two million people who have been displaced. Mothers are burying their children. Young women are being raped in camps. The level of slaughter of innocent civilians is unacceptable by any standard whatsoever. The leaders -- Salva Kiir, the president, and Riek Machar -- need to come to their senses. They need to sign an agreement that's real and they need to stop allowing the people to be the victims of their power struggle," Kerry said in an interview in Nairobi on Monday with a journalist from Juba-based Eye Radio.
Seventeen months after South Sudan erupted in conflict, fighting is still ongoing in parts of the country, despite more than a year of peace talks led by East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Kerry said the United States will contribute $5 million to help set up a "justice and accountability system for what is happening in South Sudan," where he said, "the level of violence is questionably a violation of the laws of warfare."
Kerry said the international community is "fed up with this avoidance of responsibility by the so-called leaders of this conflict, on both sides."
He said that by dragging out the conflict in South Sudan, the country's leaders are "destroying not only this newly born country in which all of us had such hopes and such a sense of possibility, but also doing huge damage to the region.”
Kerry noted that half a million South Sudanese are living as refugees in neighboring countries. He also said the conflict in South Sudan has "slowed down efforts to fight back against Al Shabab and other terrorist entities. It helps create more terrorist entities, actually."
The U.S. diplomat called on South Sudan's neighbors to put pressure on South Sudan's leaders to end the conflict.
"Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, IGAD as a whole -- all of them need to come together and make certain that there's going to be an impact here. That could mean sanctions against the individuals - not againsit the country - but against individuals who have hidden money away, hidden property away, who have literally stolen from the nation even as they're letting the nation kill itself," he said.
'You can’t hide atrocities'
Kerry called for an African Union Commission of Inquiry report on rights abuses committed during the conflict in South Sudan to be made public.
"There should be full disclosure, full accountability. The report should be made public. You know, you can’t hide atrocities," Kerry said.
The Commission of Inquiry report was supposed to be released at an African Union (A.U.) summit in January but was put on hold indefinitely. Activists then called for it to be released at the last round of peace talks for South Sudan, but their calls went unheeded. The head of the A.U. Commission of Inquiry, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, told the United Nations' Human Rights Council last year that he had "no doubt that there have been gross violations of human rights in South Sudan" and that they have been committed by both sides.