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Image by James Wiseman

Resurgence in armed violence and civilian casualties

Causes of internal displacement in South Sudan: Part 1

For almost a decade, armed conflicts and violence have been key factors of civilian displacement in South Sudan. While the South Sudanese crisis has long faded from the headlines, the conflict is far from over for civilians, who continue to endure widespread violations and abuses committed by governmental actors, opposition forces, or armed militias. In 2013, a civil war broke out as a result of a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar. While rooted in political instability, this conflict was also influenced by ethnic disparities, with the distinct Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups supporting opposite sides. Although an initial peace agreement was signed between warring parties in 2015, it rapidly collapsed and led to renewed violence and clashes in the territory. With the ratification of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018, the main parties agreed to establish a “Transitional Government of National Unity”, and to develop accountability mechanisms for transitional justice in the country.

South Sudanese military receives human rights training. ©Samira Y. Salifu/UNMISS

Though this treaty initially renewed hope for peace and accountability, authorities have not met their promises to implement this agreement and to hold perpetrators responsible for their crimes. In 2022, following the extension of the transitional governance arrangements, which would postpone elections for another two years, Barney Afako, member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, highlighted that “every new extension of the timelines for implementation of the peace agreement, and indeed every passing day of inaction, means not just time lost, but lives lost”.

In this context, violence and abuse continue to be part of the population’s daily lives. Several recent reports document credible instances of destruction and looting of properties, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, abductions, torture, mistreatment, and even extrajudicial killings. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that in 2021, “3,414 civilian victims [had been]

subjected to killing, injury, abduction, and conflict-related sexual violence in 982 documented incidents.

More recently, between July and September 2022, UNMISS documented 285 killings of civilians, 308 injuries, 60 abductions, and 92 cases of conflict-related sexual violence. While the number of civilian casualties recorded and attributed to conventional parties has decreased since 2021, government and opposition forces such as the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) were still allegedly “accountable for 62 percent of the overall civilian casualties” recorded during this period.

Recent trends show that women and children are increasingly targeted (162 individuals were affected by violent incidents between July and September 2022, mainly in cases of conflict-related sexual violence, killings, and abductions) and are “disproportionately affected by the effects of conflict, particularly in terms of access to health care, education, and livelihoods in volatile areas.”

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan recently revealed that, in early 2022, high-ranked government officials (including a county commissioner) ordered and oversaw “systematic gang rapes at a cantonment site [as part of an] offensive against civilians in an area considered loyal to the opposition.” In such a violent climate, civilians are often forced to flee

their homes to protect themselves or their families.

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