In a report published Feb. 19, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan found that over two years after the signing of a peace agreement officially ending a seven-year civil war, the country is still experiencing extreme levels of violence. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of armed struggle. But civil war erupted in the new nation in December 2013 following President Salva Kiir's dismissal of then-Vice President Riek Machar—respectively belonging to the largest rival ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer. The war ended in 2020, after claiming over 400,000 lives.
President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency Aug. 13 in South Sudan's central Jonglei and Pibor regions following flooding and communal violence. More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes as water levels rose by 1.5 meters in some areas after heavy rains. Flooding has also affected neighboring Upper Nile and Unity states. The government has called on humanitarian agencies to provide immediate aid, but inter-communal unrest in Jonglei and Pibor—in which aid workers have been killed—will complicate operations. The conflict between Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic militias has displaced 100,000 people since the beginning of the year. They will miss the current planting season—deepening their food insecurity. Pre-positioned food stocks were also looted in the violence. South Sudan is in the lean period before the November harvest, and "emergency" levels of food need are widespread. The US-funded Famine Early Warning System Network is anticipating their highest "catastrophe" level in some areas of Jonglei affected by fighting, and says "urgent and sustained food assistance" will be needed even after the harvest.
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Thousands of people are fleeing ongoing inter-communal clashes in South Sudan's Jonglei State and the newly created Greater Pibor Administrative Area—the latest challenge to efforts to cement peace following last month's formation of a unity government. Médecins Sans Frontières reported an influx of 83 wounded patients last week and said it had treated 45 gunshot wounds in Pibor, as fighting between Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic militias continued. "We are very worried about the extreme level of violence that some of the patients have been subjected to," said Claudio Miglietta, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. "This is not just a matter of providing medical care, it is also a protection concern, with some of the most vulnerable, including young children and pregnant women, being targeted."
South Sudan's rival leaders have finally agreed to form a transitional government of national unity, officially putting an end to more than six years of war that has left millions displaced and an estimated 400,000 dead. The breakthrough came on Feb. 20, when President Salva Kiir met rebel leader Riek Machar in the capital Juba, and agreed to appoint Machar as his deputy in a new three-year coalition government—part of a long-delayed power-sharing deal. Kiir and Machar, who leads the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO), first signed the deal in September 2018, but were unable to finalize terms and missed two previous deadlines—May 2019 and November 2019. The new pact comes just as a third 100-day extension, brokered last year by Uganda, was about to run out.
Political violence has declined in South Sudan since last year's power-sharing accord, but sporadic ethnic violence persists. The UN peacekeeping mission deployed Nepalese blue helmets this week to Western Lakes State after fighting between the Gak and Manuer communities left 79 people dead and more than 100 injured. "Inter-communal violence continues to have devastating consequences in South Sudan," said James Reynolds, head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The new violence comes as almost one million South Sudanese have been affected by flooding that has submerged communities, caused substantial crop losses, and threatened to reverse some of the humanitarian gains made during a year-long ceasefire.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his bitter rival and former vice president Riek Machar, now leader of the SPLM-IO rebels, met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum June 27 to sign a "permanent" ceasefire agreement, pledging to form an inclusive transitional government. The parties agreed to open humanitarian corridors, release detainees, withdraw troops and militarily disengage. The agreement calls on the African Union and the regional bloc IGAD to deploy protection forces and monitors to observe the ceasefire implementation. The transitional government is to form a national army and security forces not linked to tribalism, and to collect weapons from the populace. The parties also agreed to immediately start work to resume oil production at sites in Unity state (Blocks 1,2 and 4) and Tharjiath (Block 5), which have for years been paralyzed by the conflict.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan released a report Feb. 23 identifying 43 high-ranking military personnel who may be responsible for war crimes. Among those identified are eight lieutenant generals, 17 major generals, eight brigadier generals, five colonels and three state governors who may bear direct responsibility for grave violations of human rights. The report urged the Hybrid Court to begin investigating and prosecuting these individuals. The African Union is mandated to establish the Hybrid Court under the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (PDF) of 2015.