Internally Displaced: 1.6 million
Refugees: 1 million
Deaths: Over 50,000
People in need: 6.1 million
“World’s youngest country”
After over two decades of civil war, South Sudan seceded from Sudan on 9 July 2011. The split followed a referendum in which nearly 99 percent of the population concerned voted for South Sudanese independence. The referendum was a result of extensive peace talks leading to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Salva Kiir, part of the ethnic Dinka group became the first President of South Sudan, while Riek Machar, a member of the ethnic Nuer group, became the first to assume the role of the country's First Vice President.
As South Sudan gained independence, the population hoped for greater peace and prosperity after years of violence and human rights abuses under the Sudanese government. However, persistent inter-ethnic fighting has continued to plague South Sudan, with constant clashes between government forces and armed rebel groups leading to horrific human rights abuses committed by both sides.
The power struggle between then First Vice President Machar and President Salva Kiir contributed greatly to the escalation of the conflict between South Sudan's ethnic groups as fears over an alleged coup led to President Kiir dismissing the entire cabinet and stripped Machar of the Vice Presidency in July 2013. This functioned as a catalyst for widespread fighting, which claimed thousands of victims.
The Dinka people are the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. There are many smaller factions within the Dinka group, but the majority of Dinka people follow President Salva Kiir.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM, was originally founded as the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the SPLA. When South Sudan became a sovereign state in 2011, SPLM became the ruling party together with the SPLA. President Salva Kiir is the leader of the party.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit
Salva Kiir is a member of the Dinka ethnic group. He started his career in the military and politics early, joining the southern rebellion in Sudan in the late 1960s and helped form the SPLM in 1983. He became the military leader in the 1990s and assumed the position as leader of the SPLM in 2005 when the founding leader, John Garang, died in a helicopter crash. Salva Kiir was a central actor in the push for South Sudan’s independence and became the new country’s first elected president.
The Nuer people make up the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan. The majority of Nuer people follow the rebel leader, former First Vice President Riek Machar.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition, the SPLM/A-IO is a mainly Nuer political party and a rebel group that split from the SPLM and SPLA at the start of the South Sudanese civil war. The party and the militia is led by former First Vice President Riek Machar.
Former First Vice President Riek Machar
Riek Machar is a member of the Nuer ethnic group. During the North-South conflict in Sudan he was known to switch sides on several occasions as he sought to strengthen his position and that of the Nuer people. As South Sudan became independent, his presence in the higher echelons of government was seen as vital to promoting ethnic unity between the Nuer and Dinka peoples. Following this thinking, he was appointed First Vice President of South Sudan. However, the government now considers Machar to be a rebel leader of the opposition party SPLM-IO.
Other Rebel Groups
Although most of the conflict is driven by the aforementioned key actors, there are several other actors involved in the current crisis as well. Some of these actors include:
OUTBREAK OF VIOLENCE AND CIVIL WAR 2013
Originally, the two major ethnic groups in South Sudan, the Dinka and Nuer peoples, worked together in the fight for independence from Sudan. However, after successful secession, previous grievances between the two groups reemerged.
In July 2013, President Salva Kiir dismissed the entire cabinet, including First Vice President Riek Machar, following infighting among the expanded SPLM party over President Kiir's alleged dictatorial tendencies, among other things. The conflict between the two sides quickly spiraled into a civil war as fighting erupted on 15 December 2013, within factions of the SPLM/A as well as inter-communal violence between the two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer. President Kiir blamed the clashes on a coup attempt orchestrated by Machar and soldiers loyal to him. The former First Vice President, however, denied the allegations and accused the president of “inciting tribal and ethnic violence”. The president arrested Machar's supporters within the government, but Machar successfully escaped.
Civil War Breaks Out
On 18 December 2013, Riek Machar announced that President Kiir was no longer fit to lead the country, creating the SPLM/A-IO under his own leadership. The rebel party consisted of defectors, small militias, and ex-government officials. Rebel factions seized control of several key areas of the country and the ensuing violent clashes between the SPLM/A and SPLM/A-IO caused the death or displacement of thousands of civilians.
In late December 2013, the UN Security Council authorized a security force of about 6,000 to be deployed to South Sudan in addition to the 7,600 peacekeepers already in the country since the UN mission in the country (UNMISS) was established in 2011. The deployment was originally mandated to aid in nation-building efforts, however, the mission’s mandate shifted in May 2015, to include civilian protection, allowing the UN peacekeepers to use force in that protection. The deterioration of the security situation in the country is making it difficult for UNMISS to carry out its mandated mission.
The Resulting Humanitarian Situation
By 2015 thousands of civilians had been killed in the conflict and an estimated 1.5 million people had been forced to flee their homes. Armed groups had targeted civilians due to their ethnicity and reports of sexual violence, destroyed property and the use of child soldiers were frequent throughout the conflict.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE ACTORS
The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)
UNMISS was established on 8 July 2011 when the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1996. The mission is mandated to protect civilians, monitor human rights and support implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
Resolution 1996 (2011) – consolidate peace and security and help establish conditions for development.
Resolution 2155 (2014) – protection of civilians, human rights monitoring, support for delivery of humanitarian assistance, implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
IGAD was created in 1996. Member States include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.
IGAD's mission is to assist and complement the efforts of the Member States to work together for peace and security. The vision of the organization is to achieve peace, prosperity, and regional integration in the IGAD region and to be the premier Regional Economic Community (REC) for sustainable development in the region.
PEACE AGREEMENT AND ITS IMPLEMENTATION
Introduction to Peace
After weeks of negotiations and continued fighting, IGAD successfully arranged an agreement on a ceasefire between the warring parties on 23 January 2014. The Cessation of Hostilities included conditions such as the withdrawal of armed forces and suspension of hostile propaganda. IGAD's main mediator during the talks, Ethiopian diplomat Seyoum Mesfin, stressed the importance for the parties to implement and fully commit to ensure that the peace process moved forward.
Violating the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement
As the parties repeatedly violated and periodically recommitted themselves to the cessation of hostilities, the conflict in South Sudan raged on for more than 20 months. In February 2014, further peace talks were arranged and once again disrupted. IGAD repeatedly brokered talks and in May 2014 they succeeded in arranging an agreement to form a transitional government. The parties, however, failed to agree on the composition and the responsibilities of such a government.
The IGAD Monitoring & Verification Mechanism (MVM)
IGAD set up a team to monitor the ceasefire agreement, which would ensure that the parties adhered to the agreed terms. The first group was dispatched in April 2014. The team monitored violations and submitted their observations to the Office of the IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan, who thereafter further reviewed the situation.
Peace Agreement and Unity Government
Resumption of Peace Talks
Clashes between government forces and rebels continued as IGAD-led peace talks resumed in August 2014, dragging on for several months. The general elections, scheduled for June 2015, were cancelled in February 2015 due to continued fighting between the parties.
The Peace Agreement
The parties missed several deadlines to sign a peace agreement set by IGAD. The international community threatened sanctions, such as an arms embargo, if an agreement could not be reached swiftly. In August 2015, the peace agreement was signed by both parties. However, President Salva Kiir signed the deal more than a week later than Riek Machar as he expressed reservations regarding the content. He accused the agreement of attacking the sovereignty of South Sudan. Although both sides signed the agreement and committed to its implementation, it took another six months before it was carried out.
An important component of the agreement between the two parties included the reinstatement of Riek Machar to the position of First Vice President. Machar returned to Juba on 26 April 2016 and was sworn into the new unity government of South Sudan.
RESURGENCE OF VIOLENCE 2016
8 July 2016
As South Sudan prepared to celebrate its fifth anniversary since achieving independence, UN officials expressed concern over the continued violence around the country. On 8 July 2016, on the eve of the anniversary, hostilities broke out in the country's capital, Juba. The violence quickly spread to other parts of the country which led to a dramatic deterioration in the situation. IGAD expressed their grief over the collapse of the peace agreement.
On the anniversary, the fighting stilled, but clashes flared up again the following day. More than 300 people, including civilians, were reported dead as a result of the clashes, with over 36,000 people displaced from their homes. UN personnel and compounds came under fire as civilians sought shelter under UN protection. Many feared that the country would return to civil war.
The Following Violence
Clashes continue to occur in the country, with soldiers dying on both sides of the conflict. There are also frequent reports of violence against civilians, including the killing and raping of people caught in the areas of fighting. UNMISS has, in several reports, expressed extreme concern over the reports of violence towards civilians.
The International Response
On 12 August 2016, the UNSC voted to send an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to add to the already 12,000 in the country to secure the capital of Juba. The South Sudanese government accepted the deployment on 2 October. However, by October 14 the authorities had done nothing to ensure access for the UN troops and a report from the UN Secretary-General showed that the state has continued to obstruct the work of the UN Mission to protect civilians.
The Political Situation
Following the July violence, First Vice President Riek Machar claimed the outbreak was a calculated attempt on his life and fled Juba. President Salva Kiir later proposed that the two leaders should meet and discuss a way to reclaim peace.
Amid continued fighting on the outskirts of Juba and several other regions in the country, with his whereabouts at the time unknown, Machar was dismissed as First Vice President on 23 July 2016 and Taban Deng was made the new First Vice President. Machar responded, calling the appointment of Deng illegal.
Machar and the SPLM/A-IO
In fleeing the violence, Riek Machar crossed the border and sought refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hundreds of soldiers loyal to the rebel leader also fled to the DRC province of Kivu, resulting in protests from people in the DRC, calling for the removal of the army. The government also asked the UN mission in the country, MONUSCO, to evacuate the soldiers as they raised security concerns in the area.
In October, a spokesperson for the SPLM/A-IO confirmed that Mr. Machar had traveled to South Africa for medical treatment, but would not seek asylum there as he has vowed to return to South Sudan to resume his position as First Vice President.
Warning of Genocide
Amid reports of continued and escalating targeted ethnic violence in South Sudan, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, on 11 November 2016, released a media briefing on the situation in in the country, in which he concluded that all indicators for ethnic war and genocide are in place. He also called on South Sudanese leaders to take immediate measures to end the violence and to uphold the responsibility to protect.
“I urge Kiir and Machar to put an immediate end to the ongoing fighting, discipline the military leaders responsible for the violence and finally work together as partners to implement the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan” - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
UNMISS FAILURE TO PROTECT CIVILIANS
An independent inquiry released a report in November 2016 regarding the July violence in Juba and the reaction of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The inquiry found that UNMISS had failed to uphold its mandate to protect civilians. During the three-day outbreak of violence in the capital, armed government forces killed and assaulted civilians and humanitarian workers, committing sexual assaults and other atrocity crimes.
There were about 12,000 UNMISS peacekeepers deployed in the country, but the forces reportedly abandoned their posts and failed to respond to pleas for help.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, responded by dismissing a Force Commander as the findings of the investigation indicated that a lack of leadership was the main cause for the “chaotic and ineffective” response to the crisis. Ban urged for a prompt replacement of the Force Commander and pledged to present measures to strengthen the mission's capacity for the protection of civilians, such as greater accountability for both civilian and uniformed personnel.
The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has greatly deteriorated since the beginning of 2016. Clashes have spread across several regions in the country and a large number of people have been uprooted from their homes. Violence has greatly affected civilians, who are often subjected to atrocities, including sexual assault, torture and killings.
Hunger has also continued to be a huge problem as malnutrition has reached historic levels. Fighting has often blocked humanitarian operations, while aid workers are repeatedly attacked while trying to reach people in need, making the operational environment catastrophic.
Despite such challenges, humanitarian actors succeeded in delivering aid and protection to more than 3.2 million people in need between January and July in 2016. By the end of August 2016, humanitarian agencies had reached approximately 3.4 million out of 6.1 million people in need of assistance.
AT A GLANCE
Refugees and IDPs
By July 2016, an estimated 4.8 million people were facing a situation of severe food insecurity. The hunger and malnutrition situations have reached historical levels and are now spreading over several regions which were previously considered stable.
Situation for children
Children in the country face immense risks as their schools are destroyed, they are continuously recruited by armed forces for both sides, and over 10,000 children have been registered as unaccompanied, separated, or missing.
Crimes against civilians
The civilian population is being targeted from both sides. People are killed and subjected to horrific atrocity crimes, including sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, and assault.
Death TollThere is no formal death toll, but tens of thousands have been killed throughout the conflict. Death rates due to disease have also risen as the clashes have caused access to healthcare and other assistance to worsen.