"Working together for truth, justice, reconciliation and peace in South Sudan"

The Conflict in South Sudan

Background to the December 2013 Conflict

In December 2013, amidst increasing tension, political and leadership disagreements within the SPLM erupted into armed conflict in South Sudan, sparked by violence within the military in Juba. The fighting began among members of the Presidential Guard, but swiftly spilled over within 24 hours into residential areas, where civilians were targeted along ethnic lines. Rapidly, the fighting spread beyond the capital, to the Greater Upper Nile region and other parts of the country. Forces loyal to the former Vice-President Riek Machar formed into the grouping that became known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLM-IO), and launched attacks on President Salva Kiir’s government forces. They captured the three state capitals of the region within days, but over the coming months, these towns changed hands repeatedly between the opposing forces, with each changeover causing major destruction, looting and violence to the civilian populations.

Since December 2013, the fighting has displaced more than two million people (approximately 20% of the total population), comprising over 1.5 million IDPs and 500,000 refugees. Currently more than 200,000 of those IDPs are living in UNMISS Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites. Estimates of the death toll are difficult to confirm, but the figure is likely to be over 50,000.[1]  A report released by the African Union in October 2014 report found evidence of gross violations of human rights committed by both warring parties, including mass murder, specific targeting of civilians, torture, rape, sexual and gender-based violence, looting and destruction, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.

Peace Process

Just days after the eruption of violence in December 2013, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sent a high-level delegation to Juba, and then appointed three special envoys from Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya to engage the warring parties in a mediation effort. They brought together the two sides, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) and the SPLM-IO, in January 2014, for the first of many rounds of negotiations.

While the talks regularly produced ceasefire agreements, including plans for a power-sharing government of national unity, an inclusive peace process involving civil society, and the implementation of transitional justice and reconciliation processes, the agreements regularly failed to hold for more than a few days, and fighting continued.

On August 17, 2015, the SPLM-IO, an SPLM faction comprised of former government detainees (SPLM-FD), and other stakeholders signed the IGAD-sponsored Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) in an effort to end the conflict. The GRSS signed the document on August 26, 2015.

Transitional Government of National Unity

The peace agreement establishes a 30-month transitional period during which a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) will lead the country. The TGoNU is comprised of representatives from the GRSS, SPLM-IO, SPLM-FD, and other political parties. It should institute reforms that will culminate in elections. The TGoNU’s mandate includes:

  • Restoring peace, security, and stability
  • Overseeing a process of national reconciliation
  • Overseeing the completion of a permanent Constitution
  • Legal reform
  • Reforming government mechanisms including public financial management, the civil service, and the security sector
  • Establishing a National Electoral Commission and ensuring national elections within its mandated term

Implementation of the Peace Agreement

Limited progress has been made in implementing the peace agreement since it was signed in August 2015.  While significantly behind schedule, the TGoNU was formed on April 29, 2016 after First Vice President Machar returned to Juba.  Soon after, the SPLM-IO and the GRSS created the Council of Ministers.  However, the Transitional National Legislative Assembly has yet to be formed.  Due to a lack of political will and limited resources, implementation of many other provisions of the peace agreement are also stalled.

Background to the July 2016 crisis

On 7 July, 2016, only two days before the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, armed clashes between the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA and the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–In Opposition (SPLM–IO) occurred in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Over the course of the next several days, hundreds (possibly thousands) of soldiers and civilians were killed in heavy fighting, including two Chinese peacekeepers and a South Sudanese United Nations (UN) worker. The UN and humanitarian organisations estimate that 36,000 people have been displaced and approximately 10,800 have sought protection in their Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites.[2] Properties have been destroyed, looted and accounts of rape abound.[3] Although fighting spread swiftly throughout Juba and to other areas in the country, the violence did not spread as rapidly and widespread as it did in December 2013. Nevertheless, a cease-fire that was declared on Monday, 11 July 2016, has been violated on several occasions and fighting continues in areas surrounding Juba and the Upper Nile region.[4]

[1] Launspach, Fleur. “UN: Tens of Thousands Killed in South Sudan War.” – Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera, 3 Mar. 2016. Web. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/03/tens-thousands-killed-south-sudan-war-160303054110110.html>.

[2]  South Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin. 22 July 2016. Issue 10. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/south-sudan/south-sudan-humanitarian-bulletin-issue-10-22-july-2016

[3] South Sudanese refugees at UN camp decry harsh conditions. Radio Tamazuj. 17 July 2016. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article59655 and Government soldiers rape women in UNMISS camp in Juba: workers. Radio Tamazuj. 18 July 2016. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article59665

[4] South Sudan’s opposition says nine killed in renewed fighting. 1 August 2016. Reuters Africa. Available at http://af.reuters.com/article/southSudanNews/idAFL8N1AI1KC; Heavy fighting reported around Juba, as SPLA-IO claims closing in. 1 August 2016. Sudan Tribune. Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article59787

Help us build a peaceful and reconciled South Sudan