Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

South Sudan

Despite regional diplomatic efforts to revitalize 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 their ethnicity and presumed political loyalties.
Despite President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar formally ending South Sudan's 2013-2015 civil war by signing the "Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan" (ARCSS), serious fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and other armed groups has continued.

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 and 2015 at least 50,000 people were killed as parties to the civil war perpetrated 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.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) during 2017 in an attempt to reinvigorate the ARCSS. The HLRF was partially prompted by fighting between the SPLA, SPLA-IO and various other armed groups throughout 2017, with clashes in the Equatorias, as well as Unity and Jonglei states, resulting in widespread civilian displacement. Tensions between various ethnic groups also increased as a result of territorial disputes and cattle raids. In response, the government declared a state of emergency in Western and Northern Bahr El Ghazal and Warrap states during December.

The first round of the HLRF resulted in a new Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), but violations of the agreement occurred just hours after it went into effect on 24 December 2017. The second round of the HLRF, between 5-16 February, failed to produce the envisioned Declaration of Principles due to disagreements regarding security arrangements and accountability for violations of the ARCSS.

In early March fighting escalated in Greater Upper Nile and Central Equatoria states, with both the SPLA and SPLA-IO allegedly using heavy artillery. Throughout April fighting intensified in Unity and Jonglei States and the Equatorias. After being postponed twice, the HLRF is scheduled to reconvene from 17 to 21 May.

Since December 2013 an estimated 4.2 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, with 2.5 million refugees spread across neighboring countries.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization declared on 26 February that South Sudan is again at risk of famine. The government has been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 5.4 million people are severely food insecure and 1.1 million children are acutely malnourished. South Sudan is also the deadliest country in the world for humanitarian workers, with 100 killed since December 2013.

Political instability and armed conflict have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its almost seven years of independence. During the current dry season the potential for widespread fighting leaves civilians at imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes, despite the best efforts of the HLRF.

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 2015 agreement, exists in name only. A pervasive culture of impunity has fueled recurring cycles of violence and mass atrocities in South Sudan.

With ongoing resource deficits and a hostile operating environment, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is struggling to protect vulnerable populations.

The government of South Sudan is manifestly unwilling and unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.

In response to an escalation in violence in July 2016, on 12 August the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2304, authorizing the deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force to support UNMISS.

During May 2017 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2253 extending the sanctions regime until 31 May 2018. Six senior military figures, three from both the SPLA and SPLA-IO, are currently subject to targeted sanctions. On 15 March 2018 the UNSC extended the mandate of UNMISS until March 2019 and expressed its intention "to consider all measures, including an arms embargo, to deprive the parties of the means to continue fighting."

On 20 March the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for an additional year. The resolution emphasized that, "the Government of South Sudan has the responsibility to protect all of its population in the country from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity." On 23 February the Commission reported on 41 senior officials who bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during 2016 and 2017.

On 14 December the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement in support of the HLRF and warned that there would be a "cost and consequence for those who violate the agreement." On 28 January the Chair of the African Union (AU) Commission said that "the time has come" for sanctions against those who obstruct peace in South Sudan. The IGAD Council of Ministers issued a Communiqué on 26 March declaring that they would take measures, "including targeted sanctions against violators of the COHA as well as spoilers of the peace process."

On 2 February the United States announced a unilateral arms embargo against South Sudan. On the same day, the European Union (EU) added two current and one former government official to the EU sanctions list.

On 11 May the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide released a statement condemning the recent escalation of fighting and widespread sexual violence.

The government must implement all provisions of the ARCSS and UNSC Resolution 2304 and fully cooperate with the 24 December 2017 agreement. The SPLA, SPLA-IO and all affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel.

In support of the HLRF, the UNSC and IGAD should immediately impose an arms embargo on South Sudan. The UNSC should also expand targeted sanctions against all senior military officers, politicians and leaders of non-state armed groups implicated in atrocities or of violating the agreed cessation of hostilities.

The AU and the government should expeditiously establish the Hybrid Court and ensure it has the resources to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for mass atrocities committed since December 2013. Those responsible for atrocities in South Sudan must be held accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. South Sudan has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the March 2012 issue.