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), fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) continues. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched a High-Level Revitalization Forum during 2017 in an attempt to reinvigorate the ARCSS, resulting in an "Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access." Violations of the new agreement occurred just hours after it went into effect on 24 December. During the following week ceasefire violations were reported in Unity, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria states. On 29 December the IGAD Council of Ministers demanded an immediate end to all violence.
Fighting between the SPLA, SPLA-IO and various other armed groups occurred 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, causing sporadic clashes and deaths, with over 210 people killed in Jonglei state during late November and early December. In response, the government declared a state of emergency in several states during July and again in December.
Since December 2013 an estimated 4 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes 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, Central African Republic and 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. The government has also been accused of intentionally denying aid to civilians in rebel-held areas. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 4.8 million people are now 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 more than 85 killed since December 2013. Nine humanitarian workers were killed during November 2017 alone.
Despite the ARCSS, serious fighting between the SPLA and SPLA-IO initially reignited in Juba during July 2016. In response, on 12 August the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2304, authorizing the deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force (RPF) to support the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). After multiple delays imposed by the government, RPF troops started arriving in South Sudan 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 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. During December South Sudan's Council of Ministers and the African Union (AU) specified the role and jurisdiction of the Court. The government also launched a "National Dialogue" during 2017.
Political instability and armed violence have been pervasive in South Sudan for the majority of its six 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 High-Level Revitalization Forum. The government continues to obstruct UNMISS 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 2015 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.
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 targeted sanctions.
Since December 2016 UNMISS' mandate has included authorization 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 14 December 2017 the UNSC adopted a resolution extending UNMISS' mandate for a period of three months.
On 20 March 2017 the 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."
On 14 December the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement in support of the High-Level Revitalization Forum and warned that there would be a "cost and consequence for those who violate the agreement."
The government must fully implement all provisions of the ARCSS and UNSC Resolution 2304 and fully cooperate with the 24 December 2017 agreement. The government, SPLA, SPLA-IO and all affiliated militias must ensure that UNMISS is able to move freely and without threats to its personnel. UNMISS must be enabled to fully implement its mandate, especially regarding providing protection to vulnerable civilians.
In support of the High-Level Revitalization Forum, 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 and politicians implicated in atrocities and/or 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. The government, AU and IGAD must hold those responsible for past atrocities in South Sudan accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position.
Last Updated: 15 January 2018