Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

South Sudan

The resumption of widespread fighting in South Sudan's civil war puts civilians at imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Despite the signing of multiple peace agreements, on 26 November heavy fighting broke out between rebel forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Fangak county, Jonglei state. According to the UN this "represents the most sustained hostilities between the two parties since May." Between 26 November and 8 December the fighting resulted in the displacement of approximately 25,000 civilians. The UN also reported troop mobilization in other parts of Jonglei state in late November as well as sporadic fighting in Pigi and Nyirol counties. Rebel forces have also launched major attacks on government positions in Unity state.

The civil war is the result of a conflict that started between SPLA soldiers from rival political and ethnic groups on 15 December 2013. Since then, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and 1.4 million displaced, including over 97,000 who have sought refuge in nine of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan's (UNMISS) bases across the country. The civil war began after President Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar, the former Vice-President 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 Machar, respectively. At least two dozen armed militia groups aligned with either side are now operating in South Sudan, including the powerful Nuer White Army.

Over the past year civilians have been subjected to horrific attacks perpetrated by both government forces and armed rebels, including mass extrajudicial killings, ethnic targeting, widespread sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Both sides of the civil war violated a 23 January 2014 Cessation of Hostilities (COH) agreement almost immediately after it was signed. Following further negotiations, President Kiir and Machar signed a 9 May peace agreement, which called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities within 24 hours."

The parties failed to meet a 10 August deadline to form a transitional government shortly before a temporary resumption of large-scale armed hostilities during August. Following another lull in major fighting and a 7 November Summit, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) announced a deal that included recommitment to the COH and the formation of a transitional government. IGAD threatened regional sanctions and to directly intervene to protect civilians if both parties did not consent to the agreement within 15 days. Fighting resumed two days later, but IGAD has not implemented the threatened sanctions.

In order to support UNMISS' efforts to implement its protection of civilians mandate, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2132 on 24 December 2013, temporarily enlarging UNMISS by an additional 5,500 troops and 440 police. A total of 3,488 of the troops have been deployed. On 27 September China announced that they would be deploying 700 troops as part of the force surge.

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 proliferation of armed militia groups increases the risk to civilians.

One year after the start of the conflict, the failure to uphold peace agreements reveals a lack of commitment to a political solution. The UN warned in September that both parties to the conflict had been mobilizing forces and amassing weapons ahead of the dry season, but did not impose sanctions as had been proposed by some UNSC members.

Despite evidence of systematic killings, sexual violence and child recruitment, neither the government nor the opposition have acted to hold perpetrators within its own ranks accountable.

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.

The AU announced the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on 7 March to investigate human rights violations committed since 15 December 2013 and make recommendations on appropriate accountability and reconciliation measures. The Commission has not yet released a report of its findings.

On 25 November the UNSC adopted Resolution 2187, extending UNMISS' mandate until 30 May 2015. The resolution also 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 November 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Sudan.]

Canada 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 1 November.

On 14 December, the UN Secretary-General issued a statement in advance of the one year anniversary of conflict in South Sudan in which he called upon both leaders to end the violence and ensure accountability for the crimes committed over the past year. On 15 December the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that fighting was likely to intensify given the onset of the dry season and urged both parties to find a political solution.

NECESSARY ACTION: President Kiir and Machar must abide by commitments already made under the COH and meaningfully engage with IGAD to resolve the crisis. The UNSC and IGAD should immediately impose targeted sanctions on all political and military leaders, regardless of rank or affiliation, deemed responsible for a resumption of armed hostilities and for previous mass atrocities.

UNMISS must robustly implement its civilian protection mandate. The international community should enhance UNMISS' capabilities through the rapid provision of additional troops and additional aviation assets. The government 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 ensure the timely publication of their findings. The government must hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable, regardless of affiliation or position.

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

Last Updated: 15 December 2014