Killings and other atrocities in South Sudan amount to genocide and African leaders need to “step up” and not rely on others for a response, Britain’s secretary for international development, Priti Patel, said.
After a visit to Africa’s youngest nation, Patel also told journalists in neighbouring Uganda President Salva Kiir’s government was blocking access to aid.
“There are massacres taking place, people’s throats are being slit … villages are being burnt out, there’s a scorched-earth policy,” she said.
“It is tribal, it is absolutely tribal, so on that basis it is genocide.”
South Sudan has been struck by mass violence since July when fighting broke out in Juba and then spread to several other areas.
The fighting is between between forces loyal to Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, who are from rival ethnic groups.
Civilians who fled to neighbouring countries say government troops, mostly drown from Kiir’s Dinka tribe, carry out killings and other crimes against Machar’s Nuer and other smaller tribes suspected of supporting rebels.
The United Nations estimates about three million South Sudanese have been uprooted by the violence, the biggest cross-border exodus in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
More than half of those have fled to neighbouring countries, mostly to Uganda.
The mass exodus and widespread insecurity across South Sudan has left farm fields deserted leading to severe food shortages.
In February, the United Nations declared famine in parts of the country.
Patel, who also visited refugee camps in north-western Uganda hosting South Sudan refugees, said Kiir’s government “actively blocked and prevented aid access” and it was using food as a weapon of war.
She told Kiir in a meeting with him on Tuesday she expected him to act to stop blocking aid and end the conflict.
In case Kiir refused, she said: “The international community will undertake consequences.”
Patel also criticised African leaders for not putting pressure on the South Sudanese government to end the atrocities and conflict and accused them of looking to others to solve a conflict in their backyard.
“Why are they not standing up for the people being massacred … who are their fellow African brothers and sisters,” she said.
“African heads of state … they need to do a lot more and they should not just rely on the international community.”
The July 2016 fighting started just as the oil-producing country was still reeling from its first civil war in 2013 after Kiir sacked Machar from his vice presidency position.
That conflict ended in a peace pact in 2015 and Machar was returned to his position early last year. Tensions between the two men lingered and led to violence again.