Four years ago, United to End Genocide joined the people of South Sudan in Juba to celebrate their day of independence. Today we met with South Sudanese who gathered in front of the White House to express their growing frustration with the tragedy that has befallen the world’s newest country and to call for action.

Horrifying reports are emerging from South Sudan of “a new brutality and intensity” including raping and maiming of women and girls. Tens of thousands have been killed and over 2 million people displaced. As fighting continues and both the government and opposition block access for humanitarian aid, the threat of famine looms with 3.5 million people, 40 percent of the country’s population, needing emergency food assistance.

President Obama will travel to Kenya and Ethiopia later this month and will meet with the leaders of South Sudan’s neighbors, those who are leading peace efforts and those who have the most leverage with the leaders of South Sudan. President Obama should take full advantage of this trip to prioritize peace in South Sudan and to encourage those leaders to hold responsible anyone who has committed atrocities or who continues to stand in the way of peace.

Practically, that means being unequivocal that only a path toward peace will be tolerated and that failure means targeted sanctions for those at the highest levels. It means implementing an arms embargo. It means publicly releasing the African Union’s Commission of Inquiry into the violence that began in December 2013. It means setting up accountability mechanisms now, whether as a hybrid court or as a referral to the International Criminal Court, so that impunity can be defeated and a path to reconciliation begun.

Today should have been a time to celebrate. The harsh realities in South Sudan make that difficult. But it can and should still be a day to gather resolve and to get back to that vision of peace shared by all on that day in Juba four years ago.

Join us, and the many frustrated people of South Sudan, in asking President Obama to foster that spirit and do all he can in his upcoming trip to prioritize peace in South Sudan.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives in Khartoum from Johannesburg on June 15, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ebrahim Hamid)

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