South Sudan

Accountability for Starvation Crimes: South Sudan

Originally published



  1. This memorandum addresses the issue of starvation crimes committed during the civil war in South Sudan (2013-18) including the goals and methods of the perpetrators, the outcomes for the victims, and the possibilities for legal redress. It includes an overview of the use of starvation during the war and three case studies. Fuller legal analysis of starvation issues is addressed elsewhere.

  2. South Sudan is, in peacetime, food secure but has high levels of poverty and poor health infrastructure. The 1983-2005 civil war witnessed numerous incidents in which all parties used starvation as a method of warfare. These occurred in the context of sieges, and also included scorched earth, forced displacement and largescale looting (especially of cattle), and the strategic manipulation of humanitarian operations in order to selectively attract relief supplies to feed soldiers and allied civilian populations while denying civilians under the control of the other side. These tactics led to recurrent famines.

  3. The recent war reprised this experience. Both government and opposition forces used starvation tactics, causing hunger, disease, social breakdown and heightened mortality. Humanitarian aid was also blocked, stolen and manipulated, and aid workers were attacked. While only a few locations descended into ‘famine’ conditions according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale, very large populations suffered ‘emergency’ and ‘crisis’ levels of food insecurity. An estimated 383,000 people died between early 2014 and mid-2018.

  4. Unity State was the worst hit by starvation due to massive and repeated depredations by both parties. Another case was Wau/ Baggari in Western Bahr al Ghazal State, where people were forced into an inhospitable location, leading to extremely severe localized famine conditions. A third case is Yei in Central Equatoria State: a breadbasket reduced to ‘emergency’ status by government attacks.

  5. The conduct of hostilities in South Sudan includes actions that undoubtedly constitute a grave violations of international laws across IHL and ICL including starvation crimes. As such they should be considered for prosecution in the envisaged hybrid court. The memo concludes with reflections on possible avenues for this.