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. Since the beginning of 2017 fighting between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO and other rebel militias has continued in various parts of the country. As part of the government's attempt to eliminate all armed opposition, the SPLA retook the rebel stronghold Pagak in Upper Nile state during July, but it was subsequently recaptured by the SPLA-IO on 7 August.
During February a confidential UN report warned that endemic violence in South Sudan had already reached "catastrophic proportions." Civilians who have fled recent fighting reported deliberate targeting of civilians, destruction of homes, sexual violence, and looting of livestock and property.
Tensions between various ethnic groups have also increased as a result of territorial disputes and cattle raids, resulting in sporadic clashes and deaths throughout the country. In Gogrial and Warrap states the government declared a state of emergency on 18 July after inter-communal fighting. On 7 August clashes in Gok state between some members of the Waat and Ayiel ethnic groups resulted in at least 25 deaths.
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 the 1 million mark. 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 constant rumors of internecine power struggles within the government. On 9 May President Kiir fired controversial army chief Paul Malong. On 13 May seven opposition groups, including the SPLA-IO, agreed to combine their efforts to oust the government. On 26 July President Kiir and various opposition groups signed the Entebbe Declaration to re-unify the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
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 (HCSS) 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 HCSS. On 26 July 2017 the African Union (AU) and the government of South Sudan finally issued a joint roadmap for the establishment of the Hybrid Court, and the two parties have since created a Memorandum of Understanding which the Minister of Justice has presented to the government.
Political instability and armed violence have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its six years of independence. The resumption of widespread fighting leaves civilians at risk of further mass atrocity crimes. The rainy season is having an additional adverse affect on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, leaving 60 percent of the country inaccessible. The government continues to obstruct UNMISS and humanitarian organizations while spending a large part of its national budget on arms.
The ARCSS was never 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.
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 15 so far this year.
Not only is the government of South Sudan manifestly failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and ensure accountability for past atrocities, it is also directly responsible for some attacks on civilian populations.
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 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 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 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the international 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 recalled "that the Government of South Sudan has the primary responsibility to protect all populations in the country."
On 4 July the IGAD Council of Ministers approved the implementation plan for a High-Level Revitalization Forum and scheduled its first meeting for September. Representatives of the SPLA-IO will be asked to attend the meeting, but Machar is not invited.
The government must fully implement all provisions of the ARCSS and UNSC Resolution 2304. The government, SPLA, SPLA-IO and affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to their personnel. The inviolability of UN compounds must be respected. UNMISS must be enabled to fully implement its mandate, especially regarding providing robust protection to vulnerable civilians.
The UNSC and IGAD should immediately impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and expand targeted sanctions against senior military commanders deemed to be exacerbating or profiting from the ongoing conflict.
The African Union and the government should expeditiously establish the HCSS 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 atrocities in South Sudan accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
Last Updated: 15 September 2017