Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

South Sudan

Renewed fighting in South Sudan's civil war puts civilians at imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: While the rainy season, which started in May, initially decreased fighting between government and rebel forces in South Sudan, violent clashes continue in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states, resulting in large-scale civilian displacement.

On 15 August, shortly after the end of a UNSC visit, heavy fighting resumed between government and rebel forces, putting civilians at risk of further mass atrocities. Intense clashes were reported around Ayod, Jonglei state, and Bentiu, a town in Unity state that has changed hands several times since the start of the civil war in December 2013 and where atrocities were committed in April.

Earlier fighting was reported on 20 July when opposition forces launched an attack on Nassir Town, Upper Nile state. Government forces responded with a counter offensive on 23 July and retook the town. Fighting was also reported between the Mabanese Defence Forces (MDF), a self-defense militia, and deserting Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers around Bunj, Upper Nile State, on 4 August. The MDF has targeted ethnic Nuers, including killing six Nuer aid workers. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has dispatched troops and evacuated humanitarian workers from the area.

The ongoing civil war is the result of a conflict that started between SPLA soldiers from rival political and ethnic groups. Over 10,000 people have been killed and 1.3 million displaced since 15 December, including over 99,500 who have sought refuge in nine 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. The worst fighting continues to be between ethnic Dinka and Nuer soldiers loyal to the President and former Vice-President, respectively.

Fighting continues despite the signing of multiple peace agreements. Both sides violated a 23 January Cessation of Hostilities (COH) agreement almost immediately after it was signed. Following further negotiations, President Kiir and Machar subsequently signed a 9 May peace agreement, which called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities within 24 hours." Both sides met again on 4 August to resume peace negotiations under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The parties failed to meet a 10 August deadline to form a transitional government shortly before the resumption of large-scale armed hostilities. President
Kiir agreed to a 25 August IGAD proposal which called for a unity government within 45 days. On 28 August the opposition rejected the proposal.

Due to the security crisis and a shortage of personnel, UNMISS has been unable to patrol frequently outside of their bases. In order to support UNMISS' efforts to implement its protection of civilians mandate, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2132 on 24 December, temporarily enlarging UNMISS by an additional 5,500 troops and 440 police. These troops are yet to be fully deployed. On 26 August an UNMISS helicopter was shot down near Bentiu. Investigations are ongoing, but the opposition has been accused of responsibility for the attack.

ANALYSIS: The rapid descent into civil war in late 2013 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 army either defecting or deserting. The ethnic dimension to the conflict increases the risk to civilians, especially as heavy fighting appears to have resumed around several major towns. The failure to uphold the peace agreement reveals a lack of commitment to a political solution.

The rainy season has hindered UNMISS' ability to protect civilians, but also reduced the capacity of both sides to fight as most roads were flooded. The UN had already warned that both parties to the conflict were mobilizing forces and amassing weapons ahead of the start of the dry season in early October.

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: On 27 May the UNSC adopted Resolution 2155 extending UNMISS' civilian protection mandate until November 2014 and noting 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 August 2014 see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Sudan.]

The UNSC adopted a Presidential Statement on 8 August, condemning repeated violations of the ceasefire and expressing its readiness to impose targeted sanctions against those who have undermined peace in South Sudan. The UNSC visited Juba on 12 August where they met with President Kiir and also spoke to Machar via video teleconference.

IGAD issued a statement on 15 August, condemning renewed fighting in Bentiu. IGAD called upon the parties to adhere to the COH and commit to the peace process. The Office of the IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan released a summary report of ceasefire violations for the period up to 21 August 2014, concluding that both sides were responsible for ongoing fighting.

The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 27 August, condemning the downing of the UNMISS helicopter and calling upon the government of South Sudan to conduct an investigation into the attack.

NECESSARY ACTION: The UNSC and IGAD should immediately impose targeted sanctions on all political and military leaders deemed responsible for a resumption of armed hostilities and for previous mass atrocities.

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 fully implement the 9 May peace agreement. The opposition must reengage with the IGAD-led peace process and commit to resolving the conflict.

UNMISS must robustly implement its civilian protection mandate. The international community should enhance UNMISS' capabilities through the rapid provision of additional troops and resources, including level-two field hospitals and additional aviation assets. The supply of tactical and utility helicopters will assist surveillance efforts aimed at detecting and preventing potential attacks on vulnerable communities. The government of South Sudan must ensure that UNMISS has the ability to move freely to all parts of the country.

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 September 2014