During the conflict between the government and antigovernment forces aligned with former vice president Riek Machar that began in 2013, security forces, opposition forces, RMGs, and civilians committed conflict-related abuses and violations in Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile, Lakes, Warrap, and Western Equatoria states. At year’s end at least 10,000 individuals had been killed in the conflict and approximately 1.91 million persons were displaced. International NGOs and the United Nations reported atrocities.
In January, President Kiir declared a state of emergency in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states, ordering the SPLA to fight opposition forces. Targeted ethnic killings, ethnic tension, and retaliatory violence in these states also contributed to widespread abuses.
Civilian casualties often occurred when cattle raiders stole cattle, which defined power and wealth in many traditional communities, in Lakes, Warrap, and Unity states, resulting in revenge attacks. SPLA and police sometimes engaged in the revenge killings that took place both between and within ethnic groups.
Intercommunal tensions in Lakes State worsened during the year, with dozens killed at a time. When SPLA soldiers deployed to Lakes State in September to quell the violence between Dinka clans, clan members killed approximately two dozen SPLA soldiers.
Killings: Between January 1 and 18, opposition forces controlled Bor town. International NGOs reported large-scale targeting of Dinka civilians by opposition forces. Witnesses fleeing to Awerial County in Lakes State stated armed men chased and shot at them as they escaped.
After the government regained control of Bor on January 18, it reported the hospital had been attacked; they discovered 14 dead bodies, including those of two pregnant women. Bodies of patients were found in their beds.
In early January while Bor was under opposition control, opposition forces killed at least 13 persons hiding in St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Bor town. Witnesses reported armed men came to the church and shot several women. There were also reports opposition forces committed sexual violence against women hiding in the church during the same time. Local authorities stated 2,007 individuals were killed in Bor County during January. UNMISS identified the bodies of more than 100 civilians, including women and children.
Government forces, together with the South Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces, regained control of Bentiu and Rubkona in Unity State during the first week of January. Witness reports stated they targeted Nuers and many civilians were killed as they fled to the UNMISS PoC site. UNMISS human rights officers observed the SPLA shooting at civilians just outside the UNMISS base on January 10 and saw more than 20 dead bodies, including a child, in Bentiu and Rubkona. Some bodies had their hands tied behind their backs. There was large-scale destruction, including burning, of Beintu, and Rubkona.
In January heavy fighting occurred in Baliet County in Upper Nile State. Witness reports stated opposition forces attacked Abwong Payam District on January 1 and 2; they targeted and killed Dinkas. Opposition forces also reportedly deliberately opened fire on persons fleeing for safety in Baliet town, with children among the casualties.
On April 17, a UNMISS PoC site in Bor with approximately 5,000 primarily ethnic Nuer IDPs came under attack when Dinka youth demanded UNMISS turn over members of the Nuer White Army, shot into the site, and threw rocks and fired rocket-propelled grenades over the walls. UN reports stated at least 51 persons were killed during the incident. NGOs reported government soldiers had targeted and harassed Nuer in the camp during March and April.
Government and opposition forces exchanged control of Malakal town, in Upper Nile State, six times between December 2013 and April, causing displacement of approximately 157,000 persons throughout the state. Between December 2013 and April, in Malakal, Upper Nile State, both the SPLA and opposition forces conducted extensive house-to-house searches resulting in extrajudicial killings on an ethnic basis and sexual violence. On January 2, SPLA forces reportedly conducted searches for ethnic Nuers with loyalties to Riek Machar, and from January 15 to 17, members of the White Army, primarily young Nuer men, conducted searches for ethnic Dinkas.
In early January UNMISS reported at least 218 persons killed in Malakal, and fighting resumed on February 18, killing another six. Both SPLA and opposition forces acknowledged in January that looting, indiscriminate shooting, and targeted killings of Nuers and Dinkas occurred in Malakal. Satellite imagery indicated the destruction of approximately 25 percent of Malakal town.
On January19, government forces reportedly advised civilians to leave Leer County--the home county of Riek Machar. On 20 January, observers reportedly heard shooting throughout the day around Leer town. One source reported this was the result of Nuer armed elements shooting to warn civilians that government forces, reportedly composed of SPLA, SSLA, and JEM, were approaching Leer. Many civilians began to flee Leer town. On 21 January, opposition forces reportedly looted the compound of an international NGO, according to one source, using tanks. Two of the NGO’s vehicles were reportedly stolen. One witness indicated that, by January 26, all NGO compounds in Leer town had been looted. Observers reported shelling into the town before the arrival of government forces. One witness reported that as soon as government forces arrived in Leer town and the surrounding areas, they started burning and shooting indiscriminately. Another witness stated government forces caused massive destruction in Leer town, with only two churches left unburned. Government forces followed civilians into the bush in pursuit of opposition forces who had escaped along with civilians. Approximately 20 vehicles belonging to humanitarian NGOs were looted.
Witness accounts stated that on February 18 and 19 opposition forces entered Malakal Teaching Hospital (where a January 26 estimate indicated 3,000 persons were sheltering) and targeted Dinka and Shilluk IDPs. UN integrated team missions identified at least 15 dead and found many more bodies later. There was no reported final death toll.
On April 15, opposition forces advanced on government-held Bentiu and, during two attacks, killed several hundred civilians sheltered at the Kali-Ballee Mosque since February. According to reports opposition forces separated Ethiopians and Eritreans from the population and escorted them out of the mosque. Opposition forces reportedly shot and killed many Darfurians. There were also reports civilians sheltering at Bentiu Hospital were killed. Radio Bentiu FM aired messages from opposition force commanders urging young men to meet at the SPLA Fourth Division Headquarters to rape Dinka women--“as the Dinkas had with Nuer women.” Authorities removed 148 bodies from the hospital and the area around the Kalibalik Market. Following these events, the UNMISS Bentiu PoC site population swelled from 5,000 to 25,000 persons in 10 days.
On April 26, Dinka SPLA soldiers attacked unarmed Nuer SPLA soldiers at the Mapel Military Training Center in Western Bahr El Ghazal State. Some reports indicated Dinka SPLA soldiers killed approximately 190 unarmed Nuer soldiers.
In May the SPLA killed more than 63civilians in Pakur Payam, Rubkona County, Unity State on orders of an SPLA commander. There was no investigation conducted by year’s end.
On August 4 and 5, a militia group called the Maban Self-Defense Force (MDF)--a government-supported local defense force--killed six South Sudanese humanitarian workers in Maban County, Upper Nile State. Relief personnel reported that SPLA and MDF elements went to NGO compounds and demanded the organizations surrender Nuer staff members. MDF cadres carried lists of all Nuer workers, which they used to identify Nuer staff. The incident forced the United Nations to evacuate temporarily 220 humanitarian workers from the county.
On October 29, UNMISS reported the SPLA-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) targeted Nuer civilians in a Roman Catholic church for perceived support to the government during an attack on Bentiu. SPLA-IO fighters called the civilians “Dinka” and removed at least 15 men from the church to meet with an SPLA-IO official. UNMISS reported one man was shot while marching to the church and SPLA-IO soldiers shot and killed seven men and injured two when they heard an SPLA tank approach. Several witnesses also reported SPLA-IO forces killed two women and a six-month-old baby in their homes approximately 650 feet from the church.
Cattle raids throughout the country also contributed to loss of life. For example, in April nearly 100 persons died during an attack on a cattle herders’ camp in Warrap State, according to the state’s information minister.
In May at least 28 persons died following clashes between Lakes State clans in Cueibet and Rumbek North counties when youth in Cueibet led a cattle raid in Rumbek North, which then resulted in revenge killings.
In June more than 20 civilians were killed in Torit, Central Equatoria State, when youth from the Bari and Omorwo villages clashed over cattle.
The government signed a peace agreement with Murle rebel militia group leader David Yau Yau in May to end the rebellion in Pibor County, Jonglei State, that began in 2010. On July 30, the president signed a decree establishing a Greater Pibor Administrative Area with David Yau Yau as the head. There were no punitive measures put in place to establish accountability for the extensive violence and human rights abuses that occurred in Jonglei between 2010 and 2013 between SPLA soldiers and the Murle ethnic group. David Yau Yau’s militia, the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Defense Army-Cobra Faction, was in the process of being integrated into the SPLA at year’s end.
In December 2013 PG and other security force members reportedly conducted targeted killings of several hundred ethnic Nuer civilians in Juba. Witnesses reported targeted ethnic killings occurred in the city throughout the remainder of 2013, which sparked retaliatory attacks and killings during the year.
In December 2013witnesses reported approximately 250 Nuer men were gathered based on their ethnicity in the Gudele neighborhood and taken to a police station holding cell. PG forces shot repeatedly into the cell from the windows, killing all but eight men, who survived by lying under dead bodies for approximately 24 hours. The government had not conducted an investigation by year’s end.
In December 2013 Nuer youth killed three UN peacekeepers when they attacked the UN compound in Akobo, also killing 20 Dinka civilians who had sought refuge there. NGOs also reported killings of Dinka in Malakal, Upper Nile State, when antigovernment forces took control of the city. The government had not conducted an investigation by year’s end.
Abductions: An unknown number of Nuer civilians in Juba disappeared during the year. Government security forces reportedly detained them for being potential supporters of the political or military opposition.
On February 3, Nuer students published an open letter to the University of Juba about the abduction of two Nuer students who attempted to attend classes at the university on February 1. The letter stated Nuer students feared for their lives and would not be able to attend the university during the armed conflict. The abducted students’ whereabouts and condition were unknown at year’s end.
One Nuer civilian reported that in March he went to meet a Dinka friend upon the friend’s invitation. Soon after his arrival, SPLA soldiers came to the location and took him to prison. The SPLA later shared with him that his Dinka friend had called the SPLA and told them the man had been staying at an IDP camp and was Nuer. Police released him following a six-month detention because he did not disclose to police he was Nuer. Many of his fellow inmates were Nuer, including Nuer SPLA soldiers.
Authorities in Renk reported opposition forces abducted seven girls, other children, and one Darfuri businessperson in September.
On October 16, a UN agency national staff member was abducted at the Malakal airport while waiting for an UNMISS flight to Juba. Observers reported government security forces were involved. The United Nations expressed concern about the abduction and called for his immediate release. The staff member’s whereabouts and condition were unknown at year’s end.
During the SPLA-IO’s brief occupation of Bentiu on October 29, the SPLA-IO abducted and raped women after government forces withdrew. UNMISS reported at least 20 women were abducted from Souq Sabi, Dere, and Lich University and taken to Guit and Nhialdiu.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government, opposition forces and RMG forces tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas during the year.
The SPLA carried out harassment campaigns against Nuer IDPs departing UNMISS PoC sites in Juba and Bentiu. NSS officers also harassed IDPs in Juba. IDPs experienced harassment, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, beatings, abduction, and rape as they left the sites to purchase food, grind sorghum from food distribution centers, and bathe. Violence among camp residents resulted in rape, injuries, and occasionally death.
Conflict-related sexual violence was prevalent as women were frequently targeted for revenge following skirmishes and attacks on towns. Women faced rape by fellow IDPs within PoC sites and by SPLA soldiers outside Bentiu, Malakal, and Tomping PoC sites when leaving to conduct daily activities. The UN special representative to the secretary-general on sexual violence reported “rampant sexual violence” in Bentiu against women, men, and children, including rape, gang rape, abduction, sexual slavery, and forced marriage.
Both SPLA and opposition forces harassed several thousand persons who sought refuge in the Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cathedral, and Christ the King Church in Malakal in January and February. Witness accounts indicated at least one incident at the cathedral in mid-February involved the targeted killing of Shilluk men and boys.
On February 4, uniformed SPLA soldiers gathered 24 male IDPs located outside the West Gate of the Tomping PoC site and beat them with gun barrels and sticks. Soldiers took them by vehicle to the PG barracks, took their belongings, and denied them food and water for the 14 hours they were detained. All the IDPs reported they were accused of being opposition force members.
On February 20, an unknown number of SPLA soldiers gang-raped a female IDP who was returning to Tomping from the grinding mills in one of the local markets. An investigation continued at year’s end.
After government forces entered Leer County in Unity State sometime between January 20 and January 30, witness accounts stated widespread looting and destruction occurred, although it was unclear whether the perpetrators were government or Nuer armed elements.
On March 14, SPLA soldiers shot at IDPs using the makeshift showers outside the UNMISS Tomping PoC site’s West Gate. The SPLA beat several IDPs who were unable to re-enter the PoC site quickly. The SPLA took at least one IDP to a detention center and held him for nine days.
In March SPLA soldiers chased four women returning to the Tomping UN Compound until the women were within view of UNMISS peacekeepers. On subsequent days SPLA soldiers threatened, beat, and raped the women. SPLA soldiers reportedly targeted the women for their ethnicity. Several victims stated soldiers told them they committed these acts in response to acts opposition leaders committed against the government.
In April SPLA soldiers systematically raped women and beat male IDPs outside the UNMISS Tomping PoC’s West Gate.
IDPs were frequently targeted at the Juba and Bor airports to prevent them from traveling. For example, between March 13 and May 31, international NGO staff witnessed the SPLA and/or the SSNPS harass or threaten IDPs on at least nine occasions at the Bor airport.
Despite international efforts to clear them, mines were a threat to local populations in some areas.
Child Soldiers: Following the outbreak of conflict in 2013, forced conscription by government forces and recruitment and use of child soldiers by both government and antigovernment forces increased. As of September, UNICEF estimated there were nearly 10,000 children fighting in the war, with approximately 70 percent recruited by the White Army, a civilian force fighting for the opposition.
In June the government signed a recommitment to the 2009 Action Plan to end grave human rights violations against children. On August 26, the government endorsed a work plan supported by UNICEF detailing implementation steps for the recommitment. The primary goal of the work plan was to end the recruitment and use of children by armed forces, killing and maiming of children, sexual violence, and the use of schools for military purposes by July 2015. As part of the work plan, the government held a “Children, Not Soldiers” public campaign in October. As various opposition forces integrated into SPLA forces, the SPLA stated it would require these forces to de-enlist children; however, that had not happened. Opposition leader Machar signed a pledge in May to end grave violations of children’s rights. Despite their commitments, neither side halted the use and recruitment of child soldiers.
An SPLA spokesperson stated that, due to the ongoing conflict, it was impossible to verify whether children were fighting. An SPLA-IO spokesperson stated the nature of war was such that children were caught up in it and had to fight, adding that demobilization during wartime was impossible. Some military officials claimed some children received soldiers’ uniforms for protection, and others claimed even when they had no formal affiliation with the government, children sought out and wore new uniforms.
In June the Lakes State military caretaker governor, Major General Dhuol, ordered the forced recruitment of youth, and NGOs reported this resulted in the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers.
The SPLA occupied an increasing number of schools. In May UNMISS patrols observed the occupation of a university and primary school in Unity State and in July observed occupation of multiple schools in Western Bahr el Ghazal State.
The National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission continued to monitor adherence to the law, which bans the use of child soldiers, with limited success due to the conflict. In September the Ministry of Defense issued a punitive order against any commander who had children in his unit. The same month the SPLA released 32 children from its barracks in Wau, and an SPLA commander released 43 children in Jonglei. While David Yau Yau agreed to integrate his militia into the SPLA and de-enlist children, his militia had not discharged any children from its ranks by year’s end.
Opposition forces and RMGs recruited child soldiers, with some groups such as the White Army relying on youth as their primary fighting force. No estimate of numbers of juveniles in RMGs was available.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Both SPLA and opposition forces restricted the movement of UN personnel and other humanitarian groups, obstructing delivery of needed emergency aid for vulnerable conflict-affected populations. The government also harassed humanitarian workers and interfered with aid delivery. Access remained a critical problem, despite government assurances humanitarian workers would be protected and given unfettered access to populations in need. On multiple occasions, fighting between government and opposition forces put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, and jeopardized relief operations. Between the start of the crisis in December 2013 and September, relief workers recorded more than 600 incidents of access denial or interference by the SPLA, the SPLA-IO, or other armed elements. Nonetheless, relief personnel organized 600 humanitarian flights in October, of which 15 experienced delays. Delayed flight assurances most often prevented relief workers from traveling to remote locations. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through an access working group of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), coordinated with the SPLA and the SPLA-IO to work through access problems. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included harassment or intimidation, attacks, robbery, hijacking, abduction, arrest or detention, and commandeering of vehicles.
Conflict and insecurity frequently prevented humanitarian access to populations in need and often put humanitarian workers at risk. Repeated attacks on Bentiu, Malakal, and Bor forced humanitarian workers to seek shelter in bunkers on UNMISS bases, leaving IDPs in UNMISS PoC sites caught in the crossfire, unassisted for days at a time.
In April authorities did not grant permission to the WFP to distribute food commodities by air in Leer County, Unity State, when acute needs were identified for urgent assistance. The WFP also had intermittent access problems in other parts of Unity State.
On March 23, three humanitarian agencies jointly transported two IDPs from the PoC site in Bor for medical evacuation. At the airport, a man in civilian clothing and an SPLA officer approached the humanitarian workers and told them they could not take the IDPs because they were Nuer; if they tried, the IDPs would be killed on the spot. Following an hour-long negotiation, the officer allowed the IDPs to evacuate.
In March the SPLA intercepted 11 UNMISS trucks carrying weapons intended for peacekeepers; the land transport violated a UN policy that, for security reasons, arms should be transported in the country only by air. UN officials apologized for the error and stated, “Several containers were wrongly labeled and inadvertently contained weapons and ammunition.” The government, however, publicly accused UNMISS of supporting the rebels. Such rhetoric encouraged a discriminatory environment against United Nations, foreign, and humanitarian workers. In March an SSNPS officer assaulted an UNMISS officer at a checkpoint. Additionally, NSS harassed and assaulted WFP staff at Juba Airport the same month. More than 50 humanitarian trucks carrying food and nonfood relief items were stopped in March for periods lasting nearly a week.
In late April after civilians attacked the UNMISS PoC site in Bor, government authorities prevented the World Health Organization for two weeks from conducting medical evacuations of more than 20 injured civilians. The government initially refused to permit the evacuations because it claimed rebel combatants were among the injured.
In mid-July the SPLA attacked Nhialdiu, Unity State, during a WFP food distribution for 37,000 persons. Per standard operating procedure, the WFP had previously notified the government and opposition forces of the time and location of the distribution. It was unclear who was responsible for looting 300 metric tons of relief food that followed the attack.
In early September a WFP team in Ngop, Unity State, had to flee from its distribution site and await evacuation via helicopter due to violence from elements of the local community, primarily armed youth. These armed youth stole some 23 metric tons of food, forcing a reduction in rations and, consequently, further violence against the team. The forced downing of an UNMISS helicopter outside Bentiu the previous day significantly delayed evacuation of the team.
In late September fighting between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO forced international NGOs to evacuate staff from Renk town, Upper Nile State, while insecurity forced a humanitarian rapid response team to cease activities and withdraw from Kaldak town, Jonglei State.
In mid-September, SPLA personnel removed a national NGO staff member from a humanitarian flight traveling to Akobo town, Jonglei State, placed him under arrest, and accused him of collaborating with the opposition. At year’s end the individual remained in detention. His family members in Akobo retaliated by detaining a UN humanitarian helicopter for three days.
On November 10, the SPLA impounded four trucks carrying armored vehicles and equipment for UNMISS peacekeepers. The United Nations reported the SPLA members also assaulted the drivers and accused them of transporting weapons to the rival SPLA-IO faction.
Displacements due to LRA activity in prior years continued to affect some communities in Western Equatoria State.
The government’s capacity and will to assist IDPs was extremely limited. International donors or host families provided most humanitarian aid to both refugees and IDPs. Conflict in disputed and undemarcated border areas as well as conflict that stemmed from the December 2013 crisis throughout the country, RMG activity, lack of infrastructure and road access, heavy rains, and flooding all impeded NGOs and international organizations in delivering assistance to IDPs, returnees, and refugees throughout the country. UN assessments concluded many areas near the country’s border with Sudan and in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states remained unsafe for the return of IDPs.
Since 2011 sporadic fighting between SAF and SPLM-N forces and indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states resulted in the displacement of Sudanese refugees to South Sudan. The government generally supported local governments allocating land to the UNHCR for use by the Sudanese refugees. The country hosted an estimated 245,000 refugees from neighboring countries as of October. Approximately 91 percent of these refugees were from Sudan.
According to the IOM, 589 persons of South Sudanese origin or descent returned to the country from Sudan between January 1 and October 17. The UNHCR supported two groups of refugee returnees after they crossed the border back to South Sudan by their own means. These included South Sudanese who had been in Uganda for several decades after fleeing successive episodes of war and violence and the group of post-December 2013 South Sudanese refugees who crossed into Ethiopia.
The South Sudanese who had been in northern Uganda returned to Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, after being violently chased by local residents in the wake of tensions related to the border dispute between South Sudan and Uganda over parts of Moyo District, Uganda and Kajo-Keji County. The violence lasted from September 15 to 19 and forced 14, 695 South Sudanese nationals of the Kuku tribe to return to South Sudan. In Jonglei the UNHCR identified between 400 and 500 former South Sudanese refugees who crossed from the Gambella region of Ethiopia into Pagak, South Sudan. They stated they returned to South Sudan because of fear of being relocated within Ethiopia to Dima camp where they would have been in proximity to Dinka-held areas. Because they were Nuer, they stated they wished to remain in South Sudan.