Ongoing localized and inter-communal violence, as well as political infighting, pose a pervasive threat to civilians in South Sudan.
Subnational violence is a pervasive threat for populations in South Sudan, with clashes currently taking place in nine out of ten states. Between July-September 2022 the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented at least 285 civilian deaths, 60 abductions and 92 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), as well as other armed groups and community-based militias. Violence between community-based militias and civil-defense groups accounted for more than 31 percent of the civilian casualties. Government forces, as well as organized opposition armed groups and allied militias, were responsible for 62 percent of the victims during the reporting period. Upper Nile and Warrap states were the most affected regions by the violence, accounting for more than half of the victims.
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS) warned on 26 September 2022 that escalating levels of such violence are proliferating across the country. Renewed and continued fighting between communities in Twic County, Warrap and Anet in the Abyei area, Central Equatoria and Upper Nile states killed and displaced thousands of civilians during September while civilian properties were looted and destroyed.
In several parts of the country, tensions between the two main political parties, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the SPLM-IO, 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.
According to the UN, food and other life-saving supplies have been looted, sometimes with the intent to punish specific communities. As of 31 August there were 141 reported incidents that involved violence against humanitarian personnel and assets. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, eight humanitarian workers have been killed during 2022, with three killed in September alone. South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers, with more than 130 killed since 2013.
Over 8.9 million people – more than 75 percent of the population – need humanitarian assistance. An estimated 2.2 million people remain internally displaced and 2.33 million have fled to neighboring countries.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its 11 years of independence. Between December 2013 and April 2018 an estimated 400,000 people were killed as the army and SPLA-IO perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity. The CHRSS alleges that between 2017-2019 government troops and opposition forces deliberately used the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. There has been no substantive attempt to hold perpetrators accountable.
Although the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) in 2020 was supposed to provide an opportunity to address divisions in the country, senior political and military leaders continue to manipulate long-standing enmities between rival ethnic communities. Bitter disagreements between and within parties of the TGoNU on how to implement the 2018 peace agreement have led to widening divisions and further exacerbated tensions at the local level that threaten the future security of the country. Delays in reforming the security sector appear to be a deliberate strategy by President Salva Kiir to retain dominance.
The risk of political and ethnic violence has heightened since July 2022 when parties to the peace agreement decided to extend the transitional period and postpone elections. Free, fair, credible and inclusive elections cannot be guaranteed until the constitution-making process and its relevant conditions, as well as security arrangements, are properly implemented. The CHRSS previously warned that the pursuit of elections would risk fueling further polarization.
The TGoNU is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has subjected eight people to targeted sanctions since 2015 and imposed an arms embargo since 2018. On 15 March 2022 the UNSC extended the mandate of UNMISS, emphasizing that, “South Sudan’s government bears the primary responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.”
During its 49th session in March 2022, the HRC adopted two resolutions extending the mandate of the CHRSS until March 2023 and requesting that the High Commissioner provide technical assistance to the government on human rights monitoring and transitional justice.
In July the United States withdrew from the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission – established to monitor and oversee the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement – due to a lack of progress.
The international community should exert increased diplomatic pressure on all parties to the 2018 peace agreement to ensure its full implementation. The UNSC must impose further targeted sanctions against any individuals who undermine the peace process. The African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development 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 the government must expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and prosecute individuals responsible for past atrocities, regardless of their affiliation or position.