Despite the formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity, the risk of recurring armed conflict between government forces and armed rebel groups, and increased inter-communal violence, poses a threat to civilians in South Sudan.
The formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) during February – as part of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) – provided an opportunity to address long-standing divisions in the country. However, many populations have continued to suffer as a result of inter-communal violence, particularly in Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, inter-communal clashes led to 658 civilian deaths, 592 abductions and 65 cases of sexual violence during the first quarter of 2020.
In an attempt to end rising inter-communal violence, the government launched a disarmament campaign during July and appointed a High Committee, led by Vice President Wani Igga, to resolve inter-communal disputes. Despite these measures, as well as the onset of the rainy season which is historically linked to a reduction in fighting, some inter-communal clashes continued during July and September in Jonglei and Greater Pibor.
The TGoNU is also attempting to overcome years of civil war. Between December 2013 and August 2015 an estimated 400,000 people were killed as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed rebels from the SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although violence between government forces – the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) – and non-state armed groups has reduced since the signing of the R-ARCSS, clashes between the SSPDF and the SPLA-IO in Northern Bahr El Ghazal were reported between July and September. Clashes between the SSPDF and the National Salvation Front, who remain outside the R-ARCSS, also continue in the Equatorias, resulting in thousands of civilians displaced and an unconfirmed number of deaths.
An estimated 3.8 million South Sudanese remain displaced as a result of the conflict, with 2.2 million refugees still in neighboring countries.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its nine years of independence.
While there is a history of seasonal inter-communal violence between Nuer, Murle and Dinka communities in parts of South Sudan, recent disputes have been exacerbated by resource pressures caused by flooding, arms proliferation and the decline of state authority. The intensification of inter-communal violence and fighting between government forces and some armed groups risks disrupting the peace process.
Despite an August 2015 agreement calling for an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to investigate atrocities committed during the civil war, the government has repeatedly delayed its formation.
The TGoNU is struggling 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 12 March 2020 the UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan until March 2021, emphasizing that, “South Sudan’s government bears the primary responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.”
On 11 June the European Union expressed concern about the level of political and inter-communal violence and called upon the TGoNU to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan have also expressed alarm over the escalation of inter-communal violence.
The international community must exert sustained diplomatic pressure on all parties to the R-ARCSS to ensure its full implementation. The UNSC should 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 arms embargo.
The AU and the government should expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and prosecute individuals responsible for past atrocities. All perpet
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