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.
Between December 2013 and August 2015 at least 50,000 people in South Sudan were killed as parties to the civil war 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 regional diplomatic efforts to revitalize an August 2015 peace agreement, which formally ended the civil war, serious fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and other affiliated armed groups continued sporadically throughout the following three years.
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, 7.1 million people remain severely food insecure and 1.1 million children are acutely malnourished. The government has previously been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas.
During 2017 the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) in an attempt to reinvigorate the August 2015 peace agreement. Despite hosting three rounds of HLRF meetings, the parties failed to reach a sustainable accord. In response, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya brokered a new comprehensive agreement that was signed by the parties on 12 September 2018. 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.
While negotiating the 12 September agreement, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, granted amnesty to "those who waged war against the government." Despite a pervasive culture of impunity for atrocities perpetrated during the civil war, on 6 September a military court in South Sudan sentenced 10 soldiers for the rape of foreign aid workers and murder of a journalist at the Terrain Hotel in Juba during July 2016.
On 1 and 13 September the SPLA-IO accused the government of a large-scale attack on their position in Yei River State. The SPLA also announced on 3 September that the SPLA-IO had initiated heavy fighting in Northern Liech and Yei states. Despite these incidents, there has been a significant overall decrease in armed conflict across South Sudan.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its seven years of independence. Various previous peace agreements have not been fully implemented and the root causes of the conflict have never been addressed. While the August 2015 peace agreement called 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. There is a risk that President Kiir's recent amnesty offer will include alleged perpetrators of atrocities committed during the civil war.
Since the start of the civil war in December 2013, the government of South Sudan has been manifestly unwilling and/or unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
On 23 February the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on 41 senior officials who bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during 2016 and 2017. On 20 March 2018 the HRC extended the mandate of the Commission 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 UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until March 2019.
On 13 July the UN Security Council (UNSC) imposed an arms embargo on the country, meaning that all UN member states are now 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, meaning that a total of eight rebel leaders or government officials are now on the sanctions list. Resolution 2428 reiterates that the government of South Sudan "bears the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity."
The UNSC, African Union (AU) and IGAD have all declared a willingness to take further measures to punish those who violate agreements and obstruct the peace process in South Sudan.
The government and opposition must fully implement the 12 September peace agreement. The SPLA, SPLA-IO and all affiliated militias must also ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel.
Pending the full implementation of the 12 September agreement, the AU and IGAD should actively assist in imposing and monitoring the 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 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 legally accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
Last Updated: 15 September 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.