February 12, 2009

VI. Context: Southern Sudan's Fragile Security Environment

One of the GoSS's greatest challenges is to demonstrate to its citizens the "peace dividend" in an extremely fragile security environment in which its own forces are often not able to protect civilians from violence that leads to human rights violations, and are often themselves responsible for human rights violations. In a potent reminder of this fragile environment, the CPA's fourth anniversary celebration at Malakal was marred by a conflict between Shilluk and Dinka ethnic groups over ancestral land rights. An argument between members of the two groups prompted police to fire guns, injuring six civilians. The incident sparked further clashes between the two groups in areas outside Malakal, in which eleven people were reported killed, houses were burned, and thousands of civilians were displaced.[36]

External Threats

Southern Sudan's fragility has roots in both external and internal threats. North-South tensions fuel conflict, particularly in the disputed areas of the 1956 border, such as oil-rich Abyei. Tensions between the parties to the CPA increased after the northern National Congress Party rejected the finding of a boundaries commission, formed in accordance with the Abyei Protocol of the CPA.[37] The commission found that the ethnically southern Dinka Ngok communities had a legitimate claim to the area of Abyei and adjacent oil fields.[38] Following SAF and SPLA troop build-ups and months of skirmishes in the area, clashes between the two forces erupted in May 2008, killing scores of civilians and causing at least 60,000 to flee from their homes.[39]

Although both sides claim to have withdrawn their troops to their own side of the North-South border in accordance with the CPA, they have repeatedly deployed forces in disputed areas. This was one reason for the SPLA withdrawal from the GNU, and a direct cause of conflicts in both Abyei and in Kharasana, another important contested town near the border where violent clashes erupted in the spring of 2008.[40] In the aftermath of the Abyei clashes, both sides withdrew their forces pursuant to the Abyei Roadmap and allowed joint forces to secure the area.

In the game of military shadow-boxing that characterizes border dynamics in the post CPA-era, the parties have continued to build up forces on either side of their respective borders. In December 2008, the Sudanese government reportedly deployed six battalions of SAF soldiers to Southern Kordofan.[41] The SPLA has also been slow to pull back from the border.[42] Other disputed parts of the 1956 border are flashpoints for further violence.[43] The UN and others have warned they could be potentially larger than the conflict that occurred at Abyei.[44]

The CPA prohibits all militia-known as Other Armed Groups (OAGs)-requiring their dissolution or integration into the SPLA or the SAF. This has been largely accomplished. [45] However, officials say some elements of other armed groups still exist, such as remnants of the so-called "white army" in Jonglei or remnants of former SAF-supported groups in Upper Nile and could be "reactivated" at any time. There is evidence both sides have continued to back militia as proxy forces, fuelling tension and violence.[46]

Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army is another external threat that has especially affected the Equatorian States. In September 2008, LRA attacked villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo and an SPLA camp in Sakure, Western Equatoria State, killing two civilians and abducted 14, including 12 children. Their attacks intensified in the weeks before their leader, Joseph Kony, was scheduled to sign a peace agreement but did not appear (the third such failed attempt). In December 2008, the Ugandan army, supported by the Central African Republic, Congolese and Southern Sudanese armies launched a coordinated offensive, Operation Lighting Thunder, against the rebels.[47] However, the attacks continued and by mid-January 2009, rebel attacks killed over six hundred Congolese civilians and an estimated 50 Southern Sudanese, abducted hundreds more, and caused thousands to flee their homes in Sudan.

Internal Threats

Armed criminal groups and renegade soldiers with unknown affiliations also present security threats in many parts of Southern Sudan, committing various abuses against civilians. For example, according to a report issued by the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly's Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Committee, groups of renegade soldiers known as "forgotten warriors" attacked civilians in Upper Nile, looting homes and raping females.[48] In Eastern Equatoria, a group of former SPLA calling itself "No Unit" perpetrated a string of attacks on villages in April 2008, collecting supplies along the way.[49] In late June 2008, a group of disgruntled soldiers, Ugandan rebels and bandits, attacked a village in Central Equatoria, looting goods and abducting scores of men, women, and children, causing hundreds to flee.[50]

Large numbers of underpaid soldiers who lack training in their peacetime police-oriented role also represent a threat to security by committing human rights abuses and other crimes (described in more detail below). Meanwhile communal conflict persists in the form of cattle rustling and inter-communal conflict over land use and ill-defined payam and county boundaries. With small arms still in large supply despite various attempts to disarm civilians, these conflicts often turn violent and exact high death tolls on civilians. In one clash, in May 2007, armed Toposa massacred 54 Didinga women and children in Buda county, Eastern Equatoria, while in April 2008 a communal conflict in Lakes State led to approximately 95 deaths.[51]

Many of these conflicts have deep historical roots and erupt in predictable cycles and locations. In December 2008 alone, clan fighting and cattle raiding among ethnic groups and sub-groups was reported in Warrap, Unity, Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei, and in Juba town, leading to numerous civilian deaths and injuries.[52] In late December and January 2009 clashes between Dinka sections killed more than 20 people and caused hundreds to flee their homes in Wulu, Lakes State. [53] According to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, communal clashes caused more displacement than any other factor in 2008.[54]

Boundaries are often a cause of inter-communal fighting. In December 2008 a staff member of the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission was shot when he tried to mediate a dispute between Mundari and Bari communities over a county boundary north of Juba.[55] A dispute over boundaries was at the root of the clash between Shilluk and Dinka communities near Malakal that killed at least 11 civilians in January 2009. In Warrap State, a long-standing dispute between two Dinka sections over grazing lands led to renewed violence in spring 2008, causing at least 7 deaths, in part fuelled by disagreements over the creation of a county boundary line.[56]

An underlying cause of insecurity that leads to human rights violations is that former soldiers have not yet benefited from Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs envisioned in the CPA.[57] Plans include demobilization of 180,000 soldiers and 2,900 children, but the process is highly sensitive and requires more donor support for reintegration and livelihood. The inclusion of southern former SAF soldiers has been an especially contentious matter, with thousands remaining in Juba, Wau, and Malakal and still armed. Following the New Years day violence in Juba, GoSS passed resolutions that included calling for DDR and resolving the status of the former SAF soldiers.[58]

Observers expect little progress on reforming or downsizing the SPLA anytime before the 2011 referendum in view of the political uncertainty facing the South and security threats-real or perceived-that have roots in the civil war with the North. As one long-term development agency worker told Human Rights Watch, "they are still in a war mentality and they do not want DDR, they do not want civilian oversight."[59]

Human Rights Concerns in the Lead Up to 2009 National Elections

In the period leading up to the elections, a number of politically sensitive decisions and events could become flashpoints. These include announcement of the results of the April 2008 census, demarcation of the North-South border, and the drawing of electoral constituencies (determined by population count). In Southern Sudan, disputes over local boundaries and the socio-economic pressure of more formerly displaced people and refugees returning to towns and villages could exacerbate an already tense elections environment.

Communities living near disputed areas of the North-South boundary may also become more vulnerable to national political tensions, particularly in Abyei where a shooting incident between a soldier and police in December caused hundreds of recently returned civilians to again flee the town. The forthcoming decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding the boundaries of Abyei, expected in the first half of 2009, is an obvious potential flashpoint.

The GoSS, UN agencies, and donors should urgently develop coherent strategies to prevent human rights violations arising from political tensions or communal disputes. These strategies should ensure coordination between relevant government bodies and mechanisms already established by GoSS. GoSS and international agencies should also ensure public information and voter education aim to reduce potential conflict and resulting human rights violations.

[36] "Hundreds flee clashes in Malakal," Sudan Tribune, January 13, 2009, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29847 (accessed January 28, 2009); United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), Sudan Weekly Security Situation Report #2 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[37] CPA, Ch. IV.

[38] Abyei Boundaries Commission Report, July 14 2005, http://www.sudanarchive.net/cgi-bin/sudan?e=--and-TX-abyei-1025-10-1-0-abyei&a=d&cl=search&d=Dl1d18 (accessed February 2, 2009). See also, International Crisis Group, "Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Beyond the Crisis," Africa Briefing No. 50, March 13, 2008, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5329&l=1 (accessed February 2, 2009)

[39] Human Rights Watch, Sudan - Abandoning Abyei: Destruction and Displacement, May 2008, July 2008, http://hrw.org/reports/2008/sudan0708/. The parties have since made progress deploying joint security forces to Abyei and appointing a civil administration there. However, the GNU has yet to release funding for the administration and joint forces. As of January 2009 the majority of residents have not returned.

[40] Clashes erupted between Sudanese government-backed militia and SPLA near Kharasana in April 2008, then spread to Kharasana town, killing 18 civilians and causing thousands to flee. The clashes were preceded by disagreements over the location of SPLA troops.  Similar disagreements caused violence at Abyei and contributed to tensions near White Lake/Jaw. United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan," S/2008/267, para. 11, April 22, 2008, http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=S/2008/267 (accessed October 6, 2008).

[41] "Sudan confirms troop build-up in oil region," Reuters, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L7457858.htm (accessed January 28, 2009).

[42] United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Sudan," S/2008/662, para. 17 Oct 20 2008, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/555/43/PDF/N0855543.pdf?OpenElement (accessed February 2, 2009).

[43] GoSS officials have predicted violence could erupt in Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and Blue Nile. John Young, "Emerging North-South Tensions and Prospects for a Return to War," Small Arms Survey, Working Paper No. 7, pp. 32-36, July 2007, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/Sudan_pdf/SWP%207%20North-South%20tensions.pdf.(accessed October 6, 2008).

[44] United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan," S/2008/485, para. 91, July 23, 2008, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/430/60/PDF/N0843060.pdf?OpenElement (accessed February 2, 2009). International Crisis Group "Sudan's Southern Kordofan Problem: the Next Darfur?" Africa Report No. 145, October 21, 2008, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5738 (accessed February 2, 2009).

[45] Following the January 2006 "Juba Declaration on Unity and Integration of SPLA and the SSDF," many other armed groups integrated into the SPLA. The Southern Sudan Defense Forces is an umbrella organization of formerly SAF-aligned armed groups.

[46] Small Arms Survey, "Allies and Defectors: an update on armed group integration and proxy force activity," Sudan Issue Brief No. 11, May 2008, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/Sudan_pdf/SIB%2011%20allies%20defectors.pdf (accessed October 6, 2008).

[47] "DR Congo: LRA Slaughters 620 in 'Christmas Massacres', Human Rights Watch news release, January 17, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/17/dr-congo-lra-slaughters-620-christmas-massacres.

[48] Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Committee, Report on situation in Upper Nile, Sept 11-23, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[49] Mareike Schomerus, "Violent Legacies:  Insecurity in Sudan's Central and Eastern Equatoria," Small Arms Survey, Working Paper No. 13, June 2008, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/portal/spotlight/sudan/Sudan_pdf/SWP%2013%20C%20&%20E%20Equatoria.pdf (accessed October 6, 2008), pp. 31, 70.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Commissioner of Lainya County, Juba, July 5, 2008.

[51] See United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Sudan," S/2008/485, para. 5, July 23, 2008, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/430/60/PDF/N0843060.pdf?OpenElement (accessed February 2, 2009).  

[52] UNMIS Protection of Civilians report, December 14, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[53] UN Police report, January 29, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[54] UN OCHA statistics, November 25, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with victim (name withheld), Juba, December 13, 2008.

[56] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with resident of Warrap State (name withheld), October 1, 2008. Confidential report from UNMIS Civil Affairs, October 7, 2008.

[57] The CPA envisions a national Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR process), described in Chapter VI. However, the parties did not agree on a framework for DDR until September 2008.

[58] James Gatdet Dak, "South Sudan cabinet passes a number of measures on insecurity," Sudan Tribune, January 8, 2009,http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29810 (accessed February 3, 2009).

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with UNDP staff member (name withheld), Juba, July 6, 2008.