Populations at Risk Serious Concern

South Sudan

Despite the August 2015 peace deal, civilians in South Sudan remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: There has been a general decrease in fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed opposition forces in South Sudan. Despite an overall improvement in the security situation, both sides have routinely violated a peace agreement signed in August, with heavy fighting reported in Unity and Upper Nile states, including major clashes near Kaka, Upper Nile, on 9 December.

President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, leader of the main rebel group, agreed in August to end the country's two-year civil war by signing the "Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan." The power-sharing agreement calls for a permanent ceasefire as well as the establishment of an independent judicial body, the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), to investigate mass atrocities committed during the conflict.

The former President of Bostwana, Gontebanya Mogae, was appointed on 19 October to chair the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), which will track implementation of the peace agreement. Following further negotiations, both parties agreed on security arrangements during the transitional period. On 24 December President Kiir divided the country's existing 10 states into 28 new states, thereby complicating the agreed upon power-sharing formula. On 7 January the parties reached an agreement on the division of ministries in the Transitional Government of National Unity, which is supposed to be formed on 22 January. On 17 January Machar withdrew opposition politicians from Juba in protest over President Kiir's controversial re-division of states, further endangering the peace process.

The civil war was the result of a conflict that started on 15 December 2013 between soldiers from rival SPLA factions. Fighting began after President Kiir accused Machar, the former Vice President, of an attempted coup. The worst fighting has been between ethnic Dinka and Nuer soldiers loyal to Kiir and Machar, respectively. At least two-dozen armed militias loosely aligned with either side have also been operating in South Sudan, including the powerful Nuer White Army. Since August some rebel commanders have split from Machar and are not part of the peace agreement.

Parties to the civil war engaged in widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence and have, according to the UN, targeted civilians as part of their military tactics. UNMISS has reported that some children were subjected to castration, throat-slitting and being burned alive while UNICEF estimates that more than 16,000 children have been forcibly recruited since the start of the conflict. On 27 October the AU released its Commission of Inquiry report covering December 2013 to September 2014, concluding that widespread and systematic atrocities were committed against civilians. It also noted that "indiscriminate killings of civilians" were committed by both sides in Juba, Bor, Bentiu and Malakal.

Tens of thousands of people were killed during the civil war and over 193,000 people are still taking refuge in six UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases across the country. According to UNHCR, the conflict has resulted in 1.6 million IDPs and 744,000 refugees in neighboring countries. In addition, fighting in Western Equatoria state between local armed groups and the SPLA has led to the displacement of 23,000 people since December.

ANALYSIS: Ongoing fighting in some parts of South Sudan and the failure to uphold past ceasefires, reveals the difficulty in achieving a sustainable peace process. While violence has not reached the same levels as before the August agreement, civilians remain at serious risk of attack from both government and rebel forces. The defection of several rebel commanders, some of whom have previously perpetrated mass atrocities, also increases the risk to vulnerable civilians.

Although both sides have committed human rights violations that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, neither the government nor armed opposition have consistently held perpetrators within their ranks accountable. A culture of impunity has fueled recurring cycles of violence in South Sudan.

Due to the breakdown of fighting along ethnic lines during the civil war, there is an ongoing risk of inter-communal violence and revenge killings during the transition period.

With ongoing resource deficits and a hostile operating environment, including more than 60 violations of the status-of-forces agreement since August 2015, UNMISS is struggling to uphold its protective mandate.

South Sudan requires ongoing international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: In order to support UNMISS' efforts to implement its protection of civilians mandate, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2132 on 24 December 2013, expeditiously enlarging UNMISS by an additional 5,500 troops and 440 police. [For responses prior to May 2015, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Sudan.]

On 3 March 2015 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2206, establishing a sanctions regime for South Sudan. On 1 July the Sanctions Committee approved the designation of six senior military figures, three from each side, for sanctions.

On 23 September the UN Human Rights Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the human rights situation in South Sudan. An assessment team began deploying on 26 October.

On 15 December the UNSC adopted Resolution 2252, which extended UNMISS' mandate until 31 July 2016 and increased the force ceiling to 13,000 troops and 2,000 police. The resolution emphasized that "the Government of South Sudan bears the primary responsibility to protect its populations from crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide."

NECESSARY ACTION: After almost two years of civil war, the government and rebels must end armed hostilities and fully implement all provisions of the peace agreement. The UNSC and Intergovernmental Authority on Development should immediately impose targeted sanctions against any political and military leaders deemed responsible for violating the agreement.

UNMISS must robustly implement its civilian protection mandate. The international community should continue to enhance UNMISS' capabilities through the provision of additional aviation assets, including tactical military helicopters and unarmed unmanned aerial systems. The government must ensure that UNMISS has the ability to move freely to all parts of the country without threats to its personnel.

The AU should expeditiously establish the HCSS and ensure it has the resources necessary to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for mass atrocities committed since December 2013. UNMISS' Human Rights Division must continue to investigate violations of IHL and publish its findings.

The government must hold all perpetrators of atrocities accountable, regardless of affiliation or position, and initiate a comprehensive strategy aimed at strengthening the peace process.

Last Updated: 20 January 2016