Populations at Risk
Despite a 12 September peace agreement, the risk of recurring armed conflict between government forces and armed rebel groups in South Sudan continues to pose a threat to populations who may be targeted on the basis of their ethnicity and presumed political loyalties.
On 12 September 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 in 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 latest peace deal represents a significant diplomatic attempt to permanently end armed conflict in South Sudan and re-establish a power-sharing government.
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 (SPLA-IO) perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence, with both sides targeting civilians as part of their military tactics. Despite the signing of a formal peace agreement in August 2015, the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on 41 senior officials who were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during 2016 and 2017.
Since December 2013 an estimated 4.5 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2.5 million refugees spread across neighboring countries. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 6.1 million people remain severely food insecure in South Sudan, including nearly 1.7 million on the brink of famine. The government has previously been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its seven years of independence. Despite numerous previous failed peace agreements, the considerable investment by the entire region – including negotiations brokered by the presidents of Uganda, Sudan and Kenya – is cause for cautious optimism with regard to the R-ARCSS. The government must also work to ameliorate long-standing inter-communal conflicts within South Sudan.
Despite the August 2015 peace 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 12 September agreement, 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 atrocities committed during the civil war.
The government of South Sudan must uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including by fully implementing 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 15 March 2018 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until March 2019.
On 13 July the UNSC imposed an arms embargo on the country, asserting that all UN member states are required to prevent the supply, sale or transfer of all arms and related material to 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. Resolution 2428 reiterated the government of South Sudan's responsibility to protect.
Pending the full implementation of the R-ARCSS, the African Union (AU), Inter-governmental Authority on Development and neighboring countries should actively assist in imposing and monitoring the existing arms embargo. The UNSC should expand targeted sanctions against any senior military officers, politicians and leaders of armed groups implicated in atrocities or of violating the 12 September agreement.
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 committed since December 2013. All perpetrators should be held accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018
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.