Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

South Sudan

Ongoing fighting in South Sudan's civil war puts civilians at imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Violent clashes in South Sudan continue in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states, despite the signing of multiple peace agreements and the effects of the May through November rainy season. In the UN Secretary-General's most recent report on South Sudan he noted that he was "particularly disturbed by reports that civilians may have been murdered based on their ethnicity" and called for accountability for atrocities.

On 10 October rebel forces attacked Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) positions in Upper Nile. The SPLA launched a counter-offensive and forced the rebels into northern Jonglei state. Renewed shelling by the rebels was reported between 2 and 3 November.

Rebel forces have also launched major attacks on government positions in Unity state. On 28 October violence was reported near Bentiu. The town has changed hands several times since the start of the civil war in December 2013 and atrocities were committed there during a series of attacks during April. On 22 October the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict noted that "in my 30 years of experience, I've never witnessed anything like what I saw [there]," regarding sexual violence in Bentiu. On 31 October heavy fighting was also reported near Rubkona.

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 1.4 million displaced since 15 December, including over 97,000 who have sought refuge in nine 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.

Fighting continued despite 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."

The parties failed to meet a 10 August deadline to form a transitional government shortly before the 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 another deal to end South Sudan's civil war, including 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.

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. 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 ethnic dimension to the conflict increases the risk to civilians. The failure to uphold peace agreements reveals a lack of commitment to a political solution.

The May through November rainy season hindered UNMISS' ability to protect civilians and restricted humanitarian access, but also reduced the capacity of both sides to fight as most roads were flooded. Populations now face an increased risk of mass atrocity crimes. The UN warned in September that both parties to the conflict had been mobilizing forces and amassing weapons ahead of the start of the dry season.

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 October 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in South Sudan.]

In her statement to the UNSC on 22 October, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict noted that "national governments hold the primary legal and moral responsibility to protect their citizens from sexual violence and other grave violations."

The UN Secretary-General released a statement on 31 October, calling upon President Kiir and Machar to cease all military operations and reminding them of their "obligation to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law."

NECESSARY ACTION: President Kiir and Machar must abide by commitments made under the COH and continue to 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 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 affiliation or position.

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

Last Updated: 15 November 2014