South Sudan

29 February 2024
Risk Level: Imminent Risk

Ongoing localized and inter-communal violence, as well as political infighting, pose a pervasive threat to civilians in South Sudan.


Frequent sub-national clashes in South Sudan threaten populations in various parts of the country. For several years senior political and military leaders in the country have manipulated long-standing enmities between rival ethnic communities, enabling national level political dynamics to spark local conflicts. In several parts of the country, tensions between the two main political parties, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the SPLM-In Opposition, over access to resources and political appointments have also culminated in violent clashes and triggered serious human rights violations, including widespread sexual violence, particularly against women and girls.

Some herding and farming communities, who have a history of competing over resources, continue to engage in violent inter-communal clashes, as well as cattle raiding and revenge killings. The increasing scarcity of resources as a result of climate change has exacerbated this fighting. According to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), at least 323 civilians were killed in inter-communal or political violence between 1 September and 30 November, including 27 women and 21 children.

Ongoing instability has its origins in a war that resulted in an estimated 400,000 people killed between December 2013 and August 2015 as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed rebels from the opposition SPLA-In Opposition perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence. Despite the signing of numerous peace agreements between 2015 and 2018, intermittent fighting and ethnic violence continued. In September 2018 a Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), was signed by the parties to the conflict – including President Salva Kiir and then former Vice President and opposition leader Riek Machar – formally ending the civil war. The subsequent formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) in 2020 provided an opportunity to address divisions and support sustainable solutions to the conflict. However, bitter disagreements between and within parties of the TGoNU have widened divisions in the country and further exacerbated tensions at the local level.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 9.4 million people – more than two thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance. OCHA has reported that the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly and disabled, are bearing the brunt of the prolonged crisis as ongoing clashes exacerbate the humanitarian situation. An estimated 2 million people remain internally displaced and 2.23 million have fled to neighboring countries. South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers, with more than 143 killed since 2013.


On 31 January 2024 at least 38 people were killed following clashes between communities in the Alor area in Lakes State. Cattle herders from Warrap State, looking for water and pasture during the dry season, entered disputed wetlands and clashed with residents. Between late December and early February armed youth from the Twic Dinka community from Warrap State carried out attacks against the Ngok Dinka in neighboring Abyei, killing at least 136 people.

South Sudan’s long-delayed elections are scheduled to be held by December 2024. Despite the many delays in holding the election, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan warned that the country is not yet in a position to hold a credible election. Among other concerns, security sector reform remains significantly behind schedule and the permanent constitution-making process is delayed by 15 months. While members of the National Election Commission, the Political Parties Council and the National Constitution Review Commission were appointed in November, complaints have been submitted about whether their composition is in line with the R-ARCSS. During December a UN report on UNMISS warned that potential election-related violence is a major security and civilian protection concern in 2024.

During October the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS) warned about the systematic curtailment of democratic and civic space in South Sudan. The CHRSS claims that the National Security Service (NSS) has instituted a pervasive and unlawful censorship regime that curtails independent media. The NSS is also accused of imposing widespread restrictions and surveillance on human rights defenders and civil society organizations and their activities.


The repeated failure to uphold multiple peace agreements, continued political competition and mobilization of armed groups shows a lack of genuine commitment to a political solution by South Sudan’s leaders. Political leaders have continued to focus on the preservation of their personal power, allowing mistrust to reinvigorate ethnic tensions and fuel violence across the country. Delays in reforming the security sector appear to be a deliberate strategy by President Kiir to retain dominance. The disappearance of civic and political space diminishes opportunities for civilians to participate in constitution-making, transitional justice, national elections and other essential democratic processes and may give rise to grievances that become a trigger for atrocity crimes.

The Abyei Administrative Area is a disputed border region between Sudan and South Sudan and claimed by both countries, resulting in ill-defined borders. Abyei is traditionally the homeland of the Ngok Dinka community, which has strong ties to the Dinka in South Sudan. Recurrent inter-communal conflict is deeply rooted in grievances and competition over borders and resource allocation, as the region consists of farmland, desert and oil fields. Climate change and severe droughts have exacerbated cycles of violence.

The influx of small arms, light weapons and ammunition during South Sudan’s civil war has increased the enduring risk of atrocities, with the accessibility of weapons to civilians and youth groups making inter-communal clashes more deadly. The armed conflict and continued violations of ceasefire agreements underline the importance of the UN Security Council (UNSC)-imposed arms embargo and targeted sanctions.

A pervasive culture of impunity continues to fuel resentment, recurring cycles of armed violence and atrocity crimes. Neither the government nor opposition groups have held perpetrators within their own ranks accountable for past or current atrocities and none of the transitional justice mechanisms provided for by the R-ARCSS, including the Hybrid Court, have been established.


    • Situation of armed conflict and other forms of instability, including a security crisis caused by, among other factors, delays in implementing peace agreements, absence of a unified army under national command, weak state institutions and lack of capacity to prevent atrocity crimes and address rising political and inter-communal tensions.
    • Policy or practice of impunity for serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), atrocity crimes or their incitement.
    • Past and present serious inter-communal tensions and conflicts, the mobilization of armed groups along ethnic lines and the politicization of past grievances.
    • Capacity to commit atrocity crimes, including availability of personnel, arms and ammunition.
    • Repression of civic and political space.


All armed groups must immediately cease hostilities and respect IHL and IHRL to prevent further civilian harm. The TGoNU must make every effort to stop the fighting, address the root causes of inter-communal violence and ensure the safety and security of all populations. The TGoNU must also urgently establish an inclusive electoral system and advance the permanent constitution-making process to allow for free, fair and credible elections by December 2024. The TGoNU should also respect civic and political space and take all necessary measures to guarantee the participation of civilians in essential democratic processes.

The international community should exert increased diplomatic pressure on all parties to the R-ARCSS to ensure its full implementation. The UNSC must impose further targeted sanctions against any individuals who undermine the peace process. The African Union (AU), IGAD and neighboring countries should actively enforce the existing arms embargo.

UNMISS should continue to deploy quick reaction forces and temporary operating bases to areas at high risk of violence, as well as enhance its early warning capacities.

The AU and TGoNU must expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and prosecute individuals responsible for past atrocities, regardless of their affiliation or position.


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