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.
During September 2018 parties to the conflict in South Sudan signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), formally ending a civil war that started during December 2013. Despite severe delays, on 22 February South Sudan finally formed a new Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).
Although a ceasefire has largely been maintained and armed violence has reduced since September 2018, instability continues. On 9 March the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission on Human Rights (CoHR) in South Sudan reported ongoing killing, torture, sexual violence and rape, intentional starvation of civilians, displacement and enforced disappearances perpetrated by both government forces and non-state armed groups.
Inter-communal clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle in Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative area has resulted in hundreds of people killed since February. More than 26,000 people have fled as a result of battles stemming from disputes over cattle and access to water and grazing land.
Clashes between government forces and rebel groups outside the R-ARCSS, including the National Salvation Front (NAS), also continue. During January violence in Central Equatoria and the Upper Nile forced 8,000 civilians to flee to Ethiopia and internally displaced another 11,000. Fighting also broke out between the NAS and Sudan People’s Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Eastern and Central Equatoria at the beginning of April.
Between December 2013 and August 2015 an estimated 400,000 people in South Sudan were killed as the army (Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA) and armed rebels from the SPLA-IO perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence. Despite the signing of numerous peace agreements between August 2015 and September 2018, atrocities continued. Since December 2013 an estimated 4 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with nearly 2.2 million refugees still spread across neighboring countries.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its almost nine years of independence and numerous previous peace agreements have failed. The establishment of the TGoNU enables South Sudan to start addressing long-term political divisions.
Recurring inter-communal violence continues to pose a threat to civilians. While there is a history of seasonal inter-communal raids and violence between Nuer, Murle and Dinka communities in parts of South Sudan, recent disputes have been exacerbated by resource pressures caused by flooding in Jonglei, arms proliferation, and the decline of state authority in much of the region.
Despite an August 2015 agreement calling for an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict, the government has repeatedly delayed its formation.
The TGoNU of South Sudan is struggling to uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has subjected eight persons 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.” The resolution also expressed concern that possible war crimes and crimes against humanity continue.
On 30 April the Council of the European Union urged the TGoNU to end widespread violations of human rights and the culture of impunity and called upon the UNSC to strengthen the arms embargo.
The international community must continue to 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 in South Sudan, regardless of position or office, and should extend the arms embargo. The African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and neighboring countries should actively assist in monitoring the arms embargo.
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 past atrocities. All perpetrators of such crimes should be held accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
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