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Image by James Wiseman

Increase in inter-communal and ethnic disputes.

Causes of internal displacement in South Sudan: Part 2

Increasing inter-communal and inter-ethnic violence is another key driver of displacement for South Sudanese civilians. Fights regularly erupt between communities, with members taking up arms and attacking other tribes or ethnic groups. In December 2022, clashes between the Murle and Nuer communities killed more than 50 people in Jonglei State, and led to the subsequent mobilization of youth groups to engage in raids and retaliation. The alarming proliferation of armed clashes between different groups and communities since the ratification of the Revitalized Agreement in 2018 has evolved into a “mutant breed of traditional forms of raiding and extensions of political rivalries at the national level”.

Understanding the root causes of such conflicts is particularly challenging considering the decentralized nature of the disputes, which are generally “organized around ethnic or sub-ethnic lines” by different armed actors ranging from organized armed militias to youth voluntary groups. These disputes often develop in environments affected by tensions, power vacuums, food insecurity, or political instability.

Reports suggest that inter-communal disputes can be linked to the civil war and power struggles that have opposed the government to other armed forces for the last ten years. It is indeed alleged that “ethnicity has often been mobilized for offensive [...] purposes, or to disguise the true motivations of political and military elites”. Despite the largely irregular and unpredictable nature of these violent incidents, it seems that inter-communal violence has been fueled by elite stakeholders.

Cattle market. South Sudan © UNMISS

Incidents often take the form of lootings or cattle raiding, exacerbating animosity between communities and triggering further eruptions of violence, including revenge crimes, fights, destructions, and killings. UNMISS’s latest reports still attribute more than 30% of civilian casualties to civil-defense groups ​​and community-based militias, which are allegedly being “used as proxy armed elements by all parties to the conflict and by local actors”, thus further accelerating their militarization and the development of inter-communal violence. Other reasons for this eruption of violence amongst communities include famine, limited resources, and deprivations caused by natural disasters or conflicts, ultimately motivating physical destruction, fear, and insecurity.

The consequences of inter-communal violence therefore often force populations to escape. Armed soldiers and UN peacekeepers are attempting to protect IDPs in Protection of Civilian sites (PoCs) from external threats.

Most civilians, if they were to leave those camps, would face life-threatening risks, including in relation to attackers who targeted them in the past. However, some incidents have also been recorded in camps, as illustrated by the recent deadly armed confrontations between rival communities inside the Aburo IDPs camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.

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