Populations at Risk Serious Concern

South Sudan

Political divisions within South Sudan have resulted in heavy fighting and mass atrocities committed by both government and rebel forces, plunging the country into civil war. Ethnic mobilization threatens wider inter-communal violence.
BACKGROUND: Civilians in South Sudan continue to be threatened despite three peace agreements signed by President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the former Vice President. While the onset of the rainy season has decreased fighting between government and rebel forces, violent clashes have continued in Unity and Upper Nile states resulting in large-scale civilian displacement.

The ongoing civil war is the result of a conflict that started between Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers from rival political and ethnic groups. Over 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million displaced since 15 December, including 101,333 people who have sought refuge in ten designated sites within UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases across the country. The fighting began after President Kiir accused Machar, who was removed from office during July 2013, of an attempted coup.

Both sides violated a 23 January Cessation of Hostilities (COH) agreement almost immediately after it was signed. Following direct negotiations, President Kiir and Machar signed a subsequent 9 May peace agreement, which called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities within 24 hours." On 10 June President Kiir and Machar formally agreed to the creation of a transitional government of national unity within 60 days and recommitted to the COH. An effort to restart peace talks under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) collapsed on 23 June.

The worst fighting continues to be between ethnic Dinka and Nuer soldiers loyal to the President and former Vice-President, respectively. Both sides have been accused of targeting civilians based upon their ethnicity and presumed political allegiances. In a report released on 8 May UNMISS documented human rights violations, which it argues provide "reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both Government and opposition forces."

The UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2132 on 24 December, temporarily enlarging UNMISS by an additional 5,500 troops and 440 police. On 27 May the UNSC authorized UNMISS to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians. Despite the new mandate, UNMISS has yet to reach full force strength.

ANALYSIS:The rapid descent into civil war highlights the fragility of South Sudan's government as well as the SPLA's political and ethnic divisions, which have allegedly resulted in 70 percent of the SPLA either defecting or deserting. Continued fighting despite three peace agreements reveals a lack of commitment to a political solution as well as inadequate command and control structures on both sides of the conflict. The ethnic dimension to the conflict increases the risk to civilians.

The start of the rainy season in May has hindered UNMISS' ability to protect civilians but has also reduced the capacity of both sides to fight as most roads are now flooded.

The government of South Sudan requires international assistance to reestablish security throughout the country and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes. With resource deficits and challenges to their mobility, UNMISS is struggling to support the government in upholding its Responsibility to Protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:The UNSC adopted Resolution 2155 on 27 May. The resolution extended UNMISS' civilian protection mandate until November 2014 and noted that the government of South Sudan bears "the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including from potential crimes against humanity and war crimes." [For responses prior to May 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Sudan.]

The international community pledged more than $600 million to relief efforts in South Sudan following a conference co- hosted by Norway and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 20 May. This pledge falls short of the $1.8 billion OCHA said would be needed to avert a major humanitarian catastrophe.

The IGAD Heads of State and Government adopted a Communiqué welcoming the 10 June agreement. The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) adopted a similar Communiqué on 12 June and also threatened targeted sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the COH.

The United States imposed sanctions on Peter Gadet, an army commander loyal to Machar, and Major-General Marial Chanuong, the head of President Kiir's presidential guard, on 6 May. The EU imposed sanctions against Gadet and SPLA commander Santino Deng on 10 July.

NECESSARY ACTION:President Kiir and Machar must abide by the commitments made under the COH and continue to engage with IGAD to resolve the crisis. The UNSC, AU and major international supporters of South Sudan, especially the United States, should establish a Contact Group and ensure both parties implement the 9 May peace agreement.

UNMISS must robustly implement its civilian protection mandate. The international community should enhance UNMISS' capabilities through the rapid provision of additional troops.

UNMISS' Human Rights Division and the AU Commission of Inquiry must continue their investigations of extra-judicial killings and possible mass executions. The government must hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.

The government of South Sudan must initiate a comprehensive strategy aimed at ethnic and political reconciliation.

Last Updated: 15 July 2014