South Sudan: Populations at Risk - Imminent Risk (15 November 2017)
Despite the August 2015 peace agreement, ongoing armed conflict in South Sudan poses an imminent risk to populations who may be targeted on the basis of ethnicity and presumed political loyalties.
Despite President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar formally ending the country's 2013-2015 civil war by signing the "Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan" (ARCSS), conflict between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) remains unresolved. Fighting between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO and other rebel militias has continued throughout 2017, with reports of clashes in the Equatorias, Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states during September, resulting in widespread civilian displacement.
Tensions between various ethnic groups have also increased as a result of territorial disputes and cattle raids, causing sporadic clashes and deaths throughout the country, including over 100 people killed in Gok state during October. In response to inter-communal tensions the government declared a state of emergency in several states during July.
Since December 2013 an estimated 4 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, mainly due to conflict between the SPLA and SPLA-IO. On 17 August the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda exceeded 1 million people. Another 1 million refugees are located in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Parts of South Sudan have recently experienced famine, which the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan called a "man made" situation, while the government has been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas.
In addition to the latest fighting, there are rumors of internecine power struggles within the government. During May President Kiir dismissed Army Chief of Staff Paul Malong, placing him under house arrest. The SPLA surrounded Malong's home from 4-11 November and attempted to disarm his bodyguards, fearing that he was about to launch a rebellion against the government.
Despite the ARCSS, fighting between the SPLA and SPLA-IO initially reignited during July 2016 when widespread violence broke out in Juba. In response, on 12 August 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2304, authorizing the deployment of the 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force (RPF), proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to support the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). After multiple delays imposed by the government, RPF troops started to arrive during April.
The ARCSS called for a permanent ceasefire, as well as the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict. Between 2013-2015 at least 50,000 people were killed as parties to the civil war engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence, with both sides targeting civilians as part of their military tactics. The government has repeatedly delayed the formation of the Hybrid Court. On 26 July 2017 the African Union (AU) and the government of South Sudan issued a joint roadmap for the establishment of the Court. The two parties have since drafted a Memorandum of Understanding, which the government has not yet signed.
During mid-2017 IGAD launched the High-Level Revitalization Forum in an attempt to reinvigorate the ARCSS. The Forum will finally commence during December. Meanwhile, the government has appointed a Steering Committee to launch its own National Dialogue process.
Political instability and armed violence have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its six years of independence. As the dry season begins, the potential for a resumption of widespread fighting leaves civilians at imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes. The government continues to obstruct UNMISS and humanitarian organizations while spending a large part of its national budget on arms.
The ARCSS has never been fully implemented and the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed. The Transitional Government of National Unity, established by the agreement, exists in name only. A pervasive culture of impunity has fueled recurring cycles of armed violence and mass atrocities in South Sudan. On 26 September the UN Special Representative to South Sudan, David Shearer, said that parties to the conflict show little interest in advancing the peace process.
With ongoing resource deficits and a hostile operating environment, UNMISS is still struggling to protect vulnerable populations. South Sudan is also the deadliest country in the world for humanitarian workers, with more than 80 killed since December 2013, including 18 this year.
The government of South Sudan is manifestly failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
During May 2017 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2253 extending the sanctions regime until 31 May 2018 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 30 June 2018. Six senior military figures, three from both the SPLA and SPLA-IO, are currently subject to sanctions.
On 15 December 2016 the UNSC adopted a resolution extending UNMISS' mandate for an additional year. The resolution also authorized UNMISS to monitor, investigate and report on incidents of hate speech and incitement to violence in cooperation with the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. On 23 December 2016 the UNSC failed to adopt a resolution authorizing an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions when eight members of the Council abstained from voting.
On 20 March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for an additional year and authorizing it to preserve evidence and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights. The resolution also emphasized "that the Government of South Sudan has the primary responsibility to protect all populations in the country."
The government must fully implement all provisions of the ARCSS and UNSC Resolution 2304 and fully cooperate with the High-Level Revitalization Forum. The government, SPLA, SPLA-IO and affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel. The inviolability of UN compounds must be respected. UNMISS must be enabled to fully implement its mandate, especially regarding providing protection to vulnerable civilians.
The UNSC and IGAD should immediately impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and expand targeted sanctions against senior military officers and politicians deemed to be exacerbating or profiting from the ongoing conflict.
The AU and the government should expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court in accordance with the 26 July roadmap and ensure it has the resources to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for mass atrocities committed since December 2013. The government, AU and international community must hold those responsible for past atrocities in South Sudan accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
Last Updated: 15 November 2017