Ongoing localized and inter-communal violence, as well as political infighting, poses an imminent threat to civilians in South Sudan.
Growing discontent within the main political parties in South Sudan – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of President Salva Kiir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) of Vice President Riek Machar – have led to increased instability. In several parts of the country, tensions between the two political parties over access to resources and political appointments have culminated in violent clashes and triggered serious human rights violations, including widespread sexual violence, particularly against women and girls.
Subnational and localized violence remains pervasive, with clashes currently taking place in nine out of ten states, according to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS). Between February-June 2022 the Greater Upper Nile, Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr el-Ghazal regions experienced a rise in violence, including fighting between government and opposition forces, cattle raids and other attacks. Between April-June the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented at least 594 civilian deaths, 69 abductions and 121 cases of sexual violence by government forces and the SPLA-IO, as well as other armed groups and community-based militias. Inter-communal violence by community-based militias accounted for more than 60 percent of the civilian deaths. On 6 July at least 80 people were killed and more than 17,500 displaced during inter-communal violence in Kapoeta North County, Eastern Equatoria.
Over 8.9 million people – more than 75 percent of the population – need humanitarian assistance. According to the UN, hundreds of tons of food and other life-saving supplies have been looted, sometimes with the intent to punish specific communities. There has also been an increase in attacks on humanitarian workers and assets, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting 28 incidents involving violence or threats during July alone. South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers, with at least 130 killed since 2013. An estimated 2 million people remain internally displaced and 2.36 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 that threaten the future security of the country. Delays in reforming the security sector appear to be a deliberate strategy by President Kiir to retain dominance.
The risks of political and ethnic violence are heightened following the decision in July 2022 by parties to the peace agreement to extend the transitional period and postpone elections. Free, fair, credible and inclusive elections cannot be guaranteed due to the lack of implementation of the constitution-making process and its relevant conditions, as well as security arrangements. 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 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 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 should expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and prosecute individuals responsible for past atrocities, regardless of their affiliation or position.