Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

South Sudan

Armed conflict between government armed forces and rebel groups in South Sudan continues to pose an imminent threat to populations who may be targeted on the basis of their ethnicity and presumed political loyalties.
Despite regional diplomatic efforts to revitalize the August 2015 peace agreement, which formally ended South Sudan's 2013-2015 civil war, serious fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and other armed groups has continued. On 10 July the Human Rights Division of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported on fighting between the SPLA and SPLA-IO between 16 April and 24 May. The report documented SPLA attacks on at least 40 villages and settlements in Unity State, during which 120 girls and women were raped and more than 230 civilians were killed. Among the victims were 35 children and 50 women, many of whom were hanged or burned alive.

On 27 June President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed to the so-called "Khartoum Declaration" to establish a permanent ceasefire. However, both sides accused the other of violating the agreement within hours of it going into effect on 30 June, with fighting reported in Wau and Upper Nile States.

Despite the failure of numerous past agreements, the Khartoum Declaration was another attempt to end armed conflict in South Sudan. President Kiir and Machar initially signed the "Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan" (ARCSS) during 2015, but an escalation in fighting between the SPLA and SPLA-IO during July 2016 has led to a further two years of sporadic conflict. During 2017 the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) in an attempt to reinvigorate the ARCSS. Despite hosting three rounds of HLRF meetings, the parties failed to reach a sustainable agreement.

Between 2013 and 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.

Since December 2013 an estimated 4.5 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2.6 million refugees spread across neighboring countries. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 7.1 million people are severely food insecure and 1.1 million children are acutely malnourished. The government has been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas. South Sudan is also the deadliest country in the world for humanitarian workers, with more than 100 killed since December 2013.

Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its seven years of independence.

The ARCSS called for a permanent ceasefire, as well as the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict. A pervasive culture of impunity has fueled recurring cycles of violence and mass atrocities in South Sudan as the government has repeatedly delayed the formation of the Hybrid Court. The ARCSS and subsequent ceasefire agreements have never been fully implemented and the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed.

The government of South Sudan is manifestly unwilling and/or unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.

On 15 March 2018 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until March 2019 and expressed its intention "to consider all measures, including an arms embargo, to deprive the parties of the means to continue fighting."

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."

The UNSC, African Union (AU), and IGAD have all declared a willingness to take measures to punish those who continue to violate agreements and obstruct the peace process in South Sudan. On 2 February the United States announced a unilateral arms embargo against South Sudan. On the same day, the European Union added two current and one former government official to its sanctions list.

On 13 July the 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," and urges the government "to expeditiously sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union for the creation of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan."

The government and opposition must establish a sustainable peace agreement. The government must implement all provisions of the ARCSS that are still relevant. The SPLA, SPLA-IO and all affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel.

The AU and IGAD should actively assist in imposing and monitoring the arms embargo. The UNSC should further expand targeted sanctions against all senior military officers, politicians and leaders of non-state armed groups implicated in atrocities or of violating numerous peace agreements.

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 those responsible for atrocities in South Sudan must be held accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.

Last Updated: 16 July 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.