Clashes in parts of the Unity and Upper Nile states of South Sudan over recent weeks have resulted in killings, displacement, attacks against aid, and other abuses. These clashes, between government forces under President Salva Kiir, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) forces under First Vice President Riek Machar, are a symptom of the multiple defections and fragmentation of the opposition that has followed a failure to enforce the security arrangements in South Sudan’s revitalized peace deal.
The international community needs to maintain strong engagement to prevent further human rights abuses and a deterioration of the humanitarian situation.
In 2018, South Sudanese warring factions signed a peace deal that reduced violence in most of the country. Under the agreement, the two main opposing factions and other groups agreed to form a unity government and share responsibility for the armed forces. On March 23, the SPLM/A-IO suspended its participation in the peace deal oversight mechanisms citing continuous attacks against its bases by government forces and aligned militia.
In a March 28 statement the SPLM/A-IO alleged that government forces had been deployed to the home of Riek Machar on March 27, before withdrawing the next morning.
President Kiir described the deployment as a crime prevention measure.
Civil society leaders and diplomats have warned that these cycles of violent clashes and provocations could lead to renewed conflict. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (UNCHRSS) warned that nearly all of the UN’s risk factors for atrocity crimes are present in South Sudan. The need for the Commission cannot be more glaring. Its mandate should be renewed by the UN Human Rights Council, including to investigate, collect, and preserve evidence for future accountability processes.
Although Kiir and Machar have called for calm, they should publicly issue orders to prevent and end attacks against civilians and civilian property. Parties to the peace deal should take immediate steps to complete the integration of forces and address other outstanding security sector reform issues, and also ensure accountability for abuses by senior officials.
South Sudan’s foreign partners, especially its neighbors, should pressure and incentivize the country’s leaders to adopt measures to better protect South Sudanese civilians, who bear the brunt of the appalling political, economic, and social crisis engendered by many years of conflict.
This is not the time to dial down international engagement. Rather, efforts towards monitoring, reporting, and accountability are essential to keeping South Sudan’s fragile transition on track.