This report is the seventh in a series of Protection Trends papers prepared by the South Sudan Protection Cluster in close collaboration with the three sub-clusters and other protection actors. After providing an overview of the protection situation, the paper discusses trends on issues reported and observed in the first quarter of 2016 (1 January through 31 March), including forced displacement and population movements, threats against children, gender-based violence, and landmines and explosive remnants of war. The paper also examines certain trends since the crisis started in December 2013, depending on the availability of data.
Despite the signing of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan in August 2015, the reporting period was marked by little improvement in the protection environment. Further insecurity was experienced in areas that had not been previously affected by conflict, such as Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Gazal, in addition to new outbreaks of violence in Jonglei and Malakal.
The conflict continued to affect civilians, with reports of civilians being targeted, killed, and injured in conflict-related violence, in addition to ongoing issues regarding gender-based violence. Even though large-scale clashes between Government and opposition forces have declined, low-intensity violence such as extrajudicial killings, and raids have become more prevalent. This has led to challenges in understanding the scope of human rights violations and protection threats, particularly given access challenges to the areas most affected. In Wau, for instance, humanitarians and protection actors have received reports of atrocities but thus far have been unable to verify these due to insecurity and access constraints.
At the same time, violence broke out at the Malakal Protection of Civilians (POC) site during 17-18 February. This incident saw the killing of IDPs, the large-scale destruction of homes and assets, as well as general violence against civilians; roughly a third of the site was destroyed. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) reportedly attacked and subsequently breached the perimeter of the POC site, in violation of international humanitarian law and the Status of Forces Agreement. Ongoing investigations are looking into these events. Freedom of movement for civilians to nearby Wau Shilluk continued to be denied, resulting in families being separated.
As noted, throughout this quarter it became clear that civilians have been targeted resulting in forced displacement. This has been most notable in southern and central Unity, where human rights investigations reported signs of forced displacement of civilian populations and attempts to prevent the return of civilians perceived to support the opposition. These patterns have continued into the first quarter of 2016.
In addition to the violence that continues in the Greater Upper Nile region, humanitarians are witnessing an increasing number of clashes in areas that previously had been calm. At the end of 2015, growing tensions in Western Equatoria led to outbreaks of violence in Mundri and Yambio, causing an estimated 75,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety.
By early 2016, violence also erupted in Western Bahr el Ghazal, with humanitarians receiving reports of clashes between SPLA troops and a local militia in Wau County in January. Efforts by humanitarian partners to reach these populations throughout the first quarter of 2016 have failed due to access constraints. In Pibor town in February, rising tensions led to approximately 2,000 civilians seeking refuge in the UNMISS base. Humanitarian facilities were also heavily looted and destroyed during this incident, and on 26 February humanitarians were evacuated from the town.
In the two years since the start of the civil war, however, the occurrence and impact of cattle-raiding have not been prioritized by the humanitarian and international community due to the severity and scale of fighting, violations, and abuses related to the conflict. Nevertheless, as the macro-level clashes decline, cattle raids are starting to re-emerge as a threat to the civilian population. In March alone, an estimated 65 people were killed in cattle raids in Lakes State, and 600 head of cattle were stolen in a single incident.10 Raids also have been reported in northern Jonglei County, with violence and displacement at times spilling over the border into Upper Nile.
As people begin leaving the POC sites and returning home, the frequency and intensity of cattle raids may increase. Many people in the POC sites have reported that upon returning home, they will attempt to “reclaim” their cattle that has been taken.
Still, the return of opposition leader and First Vice-President designate Dr. Riek Machar and the subsequent formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in April 2016 provide a potentially positive backdrop for the country’s prospects for stability in the months to come. However, it is important that the humanitarian and international community continue to monitor the protection situation in the coming months, in order to ensure that the environment does indeed begin to stabilize for communities across South Sudan.