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. Since then a ceasefire has largely been maintained and armed violence has reduced throughout South Sudan. Despite the failure of numerous past agreements, the R-ARCSS represents a significant diplomatic attempt to permanently end armed conflict and re-establish a power-sharing government.

Despite the signing of the R-ARCSS, conflict-related sexual violence remains rampant in South Sudan. Between 19 November and 1 December at least 157 women - including girls under the age of 10 and women over the age of 65 - were raped, sexually assaulted and beaten as they traveled to a food distribution site in Bentiu. In Unity State 175 women and girls were also victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and gang-rape, between September-December. This follows reports that more than 505 women and 63 girls were abducted in Western Equatoria for the purpose of recruitment into armed groups and sexual slavery between April-August. 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.

Since the beginning of February renewed fighting has taken place between the National Salvation Front, the largest rebel group that refused to sign the R-ARCSS, and government forces in Central Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal states. According to the UN Refugee Agency, an estimated 5,000 people fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and local authorities reported the registration of 14,000 internally displaced persons.

Between December 2013 and August 2015 at least 50,000 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 a peace agreement in August 2015, the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has identified dozens of senior officials and groups responsible for atrocities committed during 2016-2018.

Since December 2013 an estimated 4.1 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, 5.2 million people remain severely food insecure, including nearly 36,000 in famine-like conditions.

Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its seven and a half years of independence. Despite numerous previous 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.

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." 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.

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. While negotiating the R-ARCSS, President Salva Kiir granted amnesty to "those who waged war against the government." There is a risk that this amnesty will include alleged perpetrators of past atrocities.

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

On 18 December 2017 the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched the High-Level Revitalization Forum aimed at reinvigorating the 2015 Peace Agreement. After several unsuccessful attempts, the presidents of Kenya, Sudan and Uganda brokered the R-ARCSS.

On 20 March 2018 the HRC extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights for South Sudan 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."

On 13 July 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 7 December the UNSC released a Press Statement emphasizing the government's responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes and condemning ongoing sexual violence in South Sudan.

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 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.

Comprehensive mental health and psychosocial support services should be provided to victims and witnesses of sexual violence. The signatories to the R-ARCSS must ensure that addressing sexual violence is a central aspect of the implementation of the agreement.

Last Updated: 15 March 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.