Populations at Risk Serious Concern

South Sudan

Despite a September 2018 peace agreement, the risk of recurring armed conflict between government forces and armed rebel groups continues to pose a threat to civilians in South Sudan.
On 12 September 2018 a Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was signed by the parties to the conflict – including President Salva Kiir and former Vice President and rebel leader Riek Machar – formally ending the civil war that started during December 2013. Although a ceasefire has largely been maintained and armed violence has reduced, since the beginning of February fighting has taken place in Central Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states between government forces and the National Salvation Front, the largest rebel group that refused to sign the R-ARCSS. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), an estimated 5,000 people fled to the DRC and local authorities reported the registration of 14,000 internally displaced persons. During March, hostilities and inter-communal violence in Upper Nile, Unity and the Equatorias also displaced thousands of people.

Despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights on South Sudan (CoHR) reported in February that women and girls continue to be victims of rape and sexual violence, including gang rape, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced abortion and the mutilation of sexual organs. In total, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported 1,157 cases of sexual violence during 2018 as compared to 196 cases during 2017.

There have been severe delays in implementing crucial components of the R-ARCSS, including the reunification of the armed forces and the demilitarization of Juba. As a result, on 3 May President Kiir and Machar agreed to postpone the establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) for six months.

Between December 2013 and August 2015 an estimated 400,000 people in South Sudan were killed as the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed rebels from the SPLA-IO perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence. Both sides targeted civilians as part of their military tactics. Despite the signing of the first peace agreement in August 2015, the CoHR has identified dozens of senior officials and numerous groups responsible for atrocities committed during 2016-2018.

Since December 2013 an estimated 4.15 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2.3 million refugees spread across neighboring countries. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 6.5 million people remain severely food insecure.

Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its almost eight years of independence. Despite numerous failed peace agreements, the considerable political investment in the R-ARCSS by the entire region – most notably Uganda, Sudan and Kenya – is cause for cautious optimism. Parties to the R-ARCSS must ensure that tangible progress is made over the next six months on outstanding issues. The establishment of the TGoNU could enable South Sudan to start comprehensively addressing long-term social challenges and political divisions, including recurring inter-communal violence.

Despite an August 2015 agreement calling for the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict, the government has repeatedly delayed its formation. The R-ARCSS includes new timelines for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms and the Hybrid Court.

While sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war by all parties to the conflict, over the past year there has been an alarming increase in the number of reported cases. According to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, sexual violence has been used as "a strategy to degrade, shame and humiliate victims and communities, often along ethnic or political lines."

The government of South Sudan must uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including by fully and expeditiously implementing the R-ARCSS.

Several regional actors, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, facilitated negotiations aimed at reinvigorating the 2015 Peace Agreement. These various efforts culminated in the signing of the R-ARCSS.

On 13 July 2018 the UN Security Council (UNSC) imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan. The UNSC also subjected two additional senior officials to targeted sanctions, bringing the total number of rebel leaders or government officials on the sanctions list to eight. On 15 March 2019 the UNSC extended the mandate of UNMISS until March 2020, emphasizing that "South Sudan's government bears the primary responsibility to protect its populations" and expressing concern that despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual violence, continue.

On 21 March 2019 the HRC extended the mandate of the CoHR for another year, emphasizing that the government has "the responsibility to protect all of its population in the country from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

Pending the full implementation of the R-ARCSS, the African Union (AU), IGAD and neighboring countries should actively assist in imposing and monitoring the arms embargo. The international community must continue to exert sustained diplomatic pressure on the parties to the R-ARCSS to ensure its full implementation following the recent postponement of critical deadlines.

The SPLA, SPLA-IO and all affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel.

The AU and the government should expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and ensure that it has the resources to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for mass atrocities, including sexual violence. All perpetrators of such crimes should be held accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.

Last Updated: 15 May 2019

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. South Sudan has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the March 2012 issue.