Populations at Risk
The threat of inter-communal violence in South Sudan leaves populations, particularly those in Jonglei state, at serious risk of mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Populations in Jonglei state face a heightened risk of intercommunal violence during the dry season in South Sudan. This violence follows a cyclical pattern with increases in cattle raids and competition for natural resources during the seasonal migration of populations. In recent decades this violence has intensified in scale and scope due in part to the proliferation of small arms. Increasingly, women and children have been targeted for abduction and sexual violence.
A large-scale attack by armed Lou Nuer youth on Murle communities during December 2011 and retaliatory attacks that continued until March 2012 resulted in at least 888 civilian deaths. While recent violence has not reached the scale of 2011/2012, several major attacks have occurred. In the deadliest incident during 2013, a large group of Murle fighters attacked more than 6,000 migrating Lou Nuer pastoralists in Walgak, Jonglei state on 8 February. The attack resulted in the death of more than 85 civilians.
On 8 February the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, warned that there were "signs of Lou Nuer mobilization" and called upon South Sudanese authorities to do their utmost to prevent inter-communal violence.
Since the 2011/2012 dry season the government of South Sudan has undertaken measures to prevent renewed inter-communal violence, including launching a disarmament campaign in Jonglei state and facilitating a peace accord between traditional Lou Nuer and Murle leaders. These initiatives, however, failed to eliminate the risk to populations in Jonglei state and were suspended in September 2012.
UNMISS has also reported serious human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). On 19 April the SPLA conducted a "revenge attack" on a medical facility following clashes with cattle rustlers in Eastern Equatoria state. Over 20 people were killed, including four medical staff.
In addition, forces loyal to David Yau Yau, a rebel leader who is allegedly backed by the government of Sudan, have regularly clashed with the military since late August, resulting in over 100 SPLA deaths. Yau Yau continues to recruit youth from his own community, the Murle, and also allegedly played a significant role in provoking the 8 February attacks.
The SPLA launched a major counter-insurgency operation against Yau Yau's forces in late March. On 9 April, three civilians and nine UN personnel were killed in Jonglei state following an ambush by 200 armed rebels reportedly aligned with Yau Yau. While President Kiir reiterated an amnesty offer to all rebel groups on April 25, Yau Yau's forces continue to attack SPLA positions and partially occupied Boma on 8 May.
ANALYSIS: Although the current dry season is coming to a close and has been relatively peaceful as compared to 2011/2012, according to the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) the risk of inter-communal violence remains high and is likely to displace approximately 200,000 South Sudanese during 2013. The rapid escalation of hostilities during the 8 February attacks indicates that the root causes of conflict between the Murle and the Lou Nuer have not been fully addressed. The failure to prosecute perpetrators responsible for past attacks deepens the enmity between communities and perpetuates cycles of violence.
While the SPLA's increased deployment throughout Jonglei state has helped to deter the large-scale mobilization of armed youth, ongoing capacity issues have been highlighted by the inability to halt the attacks on 8 February. Allegations of ongoing human rights violations by the SPLA demonstrate the need for urgent security sector reform.
The government of South Sudan requires ongoing international assistance to ensure security throughout the country and uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The UNSC established UNMISS on 9 July 2011 through Resolution 1996. The peacekeeping mission is tasked with assisting the government of South Sudan in "fulfilling its responsibility to protect."
NECESSARY ACTION: The government must uphold its Responsibility to Protect all civilians while conducting operations against Yau Yau's forces.
The government of South Sudan should disarm all communities in Jonglei and implement all provisions of the 2012 peace accord to ensure the root causes of inter-communal conflict are addressed. The government must hold perpetrators of inter-communal violence accountable and break the culture of impunity regarding such activities.
The international community should assist UNMISS and the SPLA in upholding their protection responsibilities by providing riverine and helicopter assets. Donors should fund human rights sensitization programs to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of the SPLA.
Last Updated: 15 May 2013