On 12 September 2018 a Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was signed by the parties to the conflict – including President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar – formally ending the civil war that started during December 2013. Since the signing, there have been severe delays in implementing crucial components of the R-ARCSS, including the reunification of the armed forces, the demarcation of state borders, and the establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU). On 7 November President Kiir and Machar agreed to extend the deadline for the formation of the TGoNU for an additional 100 days.
Although a ceasefire has largely been maintained and armed violence has reduced since September 2018, clashes between government forces and rebel groups that refused to sign the R-ARCSS, including the National Salvation Front (NAS), continue to pose a threat to civilians. During September approximately 1,600 people, mainly women and children, fled to Yei following clashes between government forces and the NAS in Otogo, Central Equatoria.
Between December 2013 and August 2015 an estimated 400,000 people in South Sudan were killed as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (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 3.7 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2.3 million refugees spread across neighboring countries. Since the signing of the peace agreement in September 2018, refugees and internally displaced persons have slowly returned. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 4.54 million people remain acutely food insecure.
Recurring inter-communal violence also continues to pose a threat to civilians. During early December at least 79 people were killed in clashes between the Gak and Manuer communities in Maper, Lakes region.
Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its eight years of independence and numerous previous peace agreements have failed. The establishment of the TGoNU could enable South Sudan to start addressing long-term social challenges and political divisions, including recurring inter-communal violence.
In the past, sections of the SPLA were largely organized along ethnic lines, resulting in clashes between those loyal to Machar and those loyal to Kiir. Disputes over state boundaries were also linked to wider arguments between the government and opposition regarding perceptions of ethnic favoritism and the abuse of power. The inability to resolve these outstanding issues puts the R-ARCSS at serious risk.
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 R-ARCSS includes new timelines for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms and the Hybrid Court.
The government of South Sudan must uphold its responsibility to protect, including by fully and expeditiously implementing the R-ARCSS.
Several regional actors, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, facilitated the peace process in South Sudan. These combined efforts culminated in the R-ARCSS.
On 15 March 2019 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended the mandate of UNMISS until March 2020, emphasizing that “South Sudan’s government bears the primary responsibility to protect its populations” and expressing concern that despite the R-ARCSS, violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity continue. On 30 May the UNSC extended South Sudan’s sanctions regime, including the arms embargo imposed in 2018.
On 21 March the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan 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.”
On 8 January 2020 the United States imposed sanctions on Vice President Taban Deng Gai for human rights violations and impeding the peace process.
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 or impede the peace process in South Sudan, regardless of position or office. The African Union (AU), IGAD and neighboring countries should actively assist in imposing and 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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