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War and peace in South Sudan: March 2016 update

Published Monday, March 14, 2016

South Sudan has been embroiled in a brutal civil war involving immense human suffering since December 2013. After numerous false starts, a peace deal was agreed in August 2015, but important elements are yet to be implemented.

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As some observers warned might happen, the euphoria and optimism that attended South Sudan’s independence in July 2011 has been quickly shattered.

The main protagonists…

South Sudan has been embroiled in a brutal civil war since December 2013. The main protagonists have been the government of President Salva Kiir Mayadit (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) and its’ allies; and former Vice-President Riek Machar (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition) and his backers.

Both sides have been backed by a range of armed groups, over which they have exercised at best partial control. Horrific human rights abuses have been committed and the violence has taken on an increasingly ethnic character. Salva Kiir is Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country. Machar is Nuer.Body text

How it started…

Salva Kiir sacked Machar in July 2013 after he had announced his intention to challenge for the presidency of the country at the next election. Fighting first erupted between the two sides in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, in December 2013. Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar of an attempted coup, which the latter denied, accusing the former of launching a pre-emptive attack against him. A group of senior political figures were also detained for a period by Salva Kiir. Subsequently known as the ‘Former Detainees’, they were accused of siding with Riek Machar but denied doing so.

The human cost…

An estimated 50,000 people have been killed as a result of the fighting. There are about 1.7 million Internally Displaced Persons in the country and over 600,000 have been forced into exile in neighbouring countries. Nearly three million people are experiencing food insecurity.

A precarious peace deal…

After numerous false starts, a peace deal was agreed in August 2015. But important elements of the deal are yet to be implemented. Violent conflict has reduced in some regions but is spreading to new ones. The situation in Equatoria region is currently of particular concern. We are witnessing a further proliferation of militia forces that are often driven by local agendas and which have little interest in the peace process. The recent unilateral creation by Salva Kiir of 18 new states has exacerbated this trend, at least in the short-term. UN officials warn that the country is on the verge of fragmenting.

Western governments are thoroughly fed up with South Sudan’s political elite. Both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have been accused of having little heed for the best interests of the country.

One South Sudan expert has called the country a “kleptocracy”. If this is an accurate description, South Sudan’s underlying political economy will have to change if the country is to recover and move forward.

UN civilian protection camp attacked…

In February, a UN civilian protection camp in Malakal was attacked, allegedly by soldiers from government forces, possibly in tandem with Dinka private militias. There were at least 25 deaths and the camp was subsequently burnt down, rendering tens of thousands of IDPs homeless twice over. The main targets of the attack was members of the Shilluk ethnic group. Community leaders accused Rwandan peace-keepers of complicity in the attack.

On 11 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report accusing all parties to the conflict of committing war crimes, while singling out pro-government forces as the gravest offenders during 2015. The report detailed a “particularly shocking” level of sexual violence by the protagonists.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7532

Author: Jon Lunn

Topics: Africa, Human rights, International development, International law, International politics and government

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