During the conflict between the government and opposition forces that began in 2013, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and civilians committed conflict-related abuses and violations in Unity, Upper Nile, Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, and Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria States.
Casualty totals were difficult to estimate because the belligerents typically did not maintain accurate records. The number of IDPs and refugees increased to approximately 2.4 million at year’s end. International NGOs and the UN reported atrocities.
Killings: In April the SPLA began a brutal offensive across the region of Greater Upper Nile lasting several months. The most common pattern involved fighting between government and opposition forces followed by reprisals against civilians. Human rights organizations reported rampant human rights violations against civilians including torture, rape, burning of victims alive, crushing victims under tanks, and wholesale destruction of villages. In May satellite imagery supported the claim that during the offensive the SPLA sent bulldozers to demolish entire villages.
For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed violence by government-aligned militias in several areas of Unity State, particularly Rubkona, Guit, and Koch Counties. HRW cited six residents of Pibor village in Rubkona County who said that progovernment militias burned their entire town after occupying it in April.
Scorched earth tactics typical of the way the SPLA and its associated armed militias conducted operations included: combat followed by killing and raping of civilians; looting of cattle and goods; and destruction of property to prevent the return of those who had managed to flee, followed by repeated incursions into an area to ensure those who had fled did not return. These actions multiplied the numbers of displaced civilians, who often were forced to travel great distances in dangerous circumstances to reach the shelter, food, and safety of UN-run PoC camps or to hide in marshes where they risked drowning or starvation.
Outside the Greater Upper Nile (Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei States) conflict zone, there were reports of increased violence throughout the Equatorias during the second half of the year. Skirmishes between armed groups called the Arrow Boys and other Equatorian vigilante groups, and the SPLA, often led to revenge killings and violations by both sides against civilians in the Equatorias. There were press and other reports that in the course of the fighting in the Equatorias, the government attacked towns, including Yambio and Mundri, and civilians with helicopter gunships.
Abductions: Abductions took place in both conflict and nonconflict zones as government and opposition forces and affiliated armed militia groups recruited children and women against their will.
There were numerous reported abductions similar to the following example: According to UNICEF, in February armed men abducted 89 boys while the boys were taking exams at an IDP camp in Wau Shilluk, on the west bank of the Nile approximately 16 miles northeast of the state capital Malakal, Upper Nile State. UNICEF attributed the abductions to a Shilluk militia group under the command of Johnson Olony, who intended to use the children as porters, cooks, and day laborers.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas.
In October the head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the country called the levels of sexual violence in the civil conflict “unprecedented.” Conflict-related sexual violence was prevalent because women increasingly were targeted following attacks. Throughout the spring offensive in Unity State and into the summer and fall, government forces and their affiliated armed militias used rape as a weapon. IDPs fleeing to the UN PoC camp in Bentiu reported to UN and NGO staff incidents of rape and torture across Unity State. Women leaving the PoC camp during the day to purchase food or collect firewood were targeted for harassment, illegal detention, abduction, and rape.
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura declared the situation in Unity State the worst of its kind worldwide in 30 years. Violence and sexual assault among residents of the Bentiu and Malakal PoCs increased as the population of each camp grew. Bentiu IDPs told journalists in September that government troops forced women and girls into rape camps, killing those who would not participate, show where the cattle were, or became too injured to continue. In October, SPLA-IO troops allegedly gang-raped two women in Koch County, Unity State. The incident occurred after a clash between SPLA-IO and government forces while opposition troops had control of Gap village in Jak sub-county for several hours before the SPLA returned.
UN and human rights organization reports released during the year stated witnesses reported the practices of burning civilians alive in their huts and castrating young boys.
Despite international efforts to clear them, landmines 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. Opposition forces and affiliated armed militias recruited child soldiers, with some groups such as the White Army (a Nuer militia tied to opposition leader Riek Machar) relying on youth as their primary fighting force.
International organization experts estimated that between 15,000 and 16,000 child soldiers had been recruited in the country since the conflict began in 2013 and blamed opposition forces and armed militia groups for the vast majority. By contrast, they estimated the SPLA’s recruitment of child soldiers to be several hundred. Observers warned the violence in Western Equatoria State, which increased in the second half of the year, had also led to the wholesale recruitment of children into the insurgent groups fighting there.
The August peace agreement mandated that specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SPLA, the SPLA-IO, the White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. UNICEF made progress with the first two groups. Defense ministry officials said the government instructed its allied militia groups to release child soldiers.
UNICEF’s program in the Greater Pibor (Jonglei State) Administrative Authority demobilized and reintegrated 1,755 child soldiers released by chief administrator David Yau Yau’s Cobra Faction. Officials attributed its success to a multifaceted approach involving education and child protection.
Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Both government and opposition forces restricted the movement of UN personnel and other humanitarian actors, hindering the delivery of emergency assistance to conflict-affected and other vulnerable populations. Government and opposition elements harassed humanitarian workers and looted humanitarian assets. Access remained a critical challenge, despite assurances that humanitarian workers, relief items, and beneficiaries would be protected. 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 December 2015, relief workers recorded nearly 1,700 incidents of access denial or interference by the SPLA, the SPLA-IO, or other armed elements. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions 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 robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention.
The UN reported that since December 2013 at least 43 humanitarian staff members were killed in South Sudan, 23 of them during the year.
There were numerous reported incidents of attacks on humanitarian workers, assets, and facilities. Interference by government officials and armed forces significantly limited the riverine transport of humanitarian cargo. For example, on July 10, both SPLA and opposition forces fired on a UN-marked barge that was transporting fuel to Malakal. When UNMISS force protection announced the barge was UN property, opposition forces immediately ceased fire and the barge continued north. After progressing for approximately 20 minutes, however, SPLA forces again fired on the barge. Three rocket-propelled grenades damaged the barge and the barge pusher, halting the barge’s movement. (A second pusher arrived and pushed the barge the rest of the way to Malakal.)
Armed elements also launched numerous attacks on humanitarian road operations, abducting and killing drivers and preventing the transportation of relief supplies. In April a convoy of food from WFP was hijacked in Fashoda County. The drivers were never found (see section 1.b). Relief groups agreed to resume humanitarian assistance in Akoka and Fashoda on July 27 due to the dire humanitarian situation in the areas and local officials’ assurances of safety.
Working and traveling across conflict lines remained a significant challenge for relief actors, particularly national staff. For example, in early April opposition elements detained and later released one local UN staff member who was supporting UN rapid response efforts in Jonglei’s Old Fangak town. Restrictions on movement hindered the delivery of assistance to populations in need throughout the year.
In late April four NGOs temporarily withdrew from Upper Nile State’s Pagak town following opposition occupation of their compounds, which coincided with an opposition leadership conference in Pagak. The breach affected public perceptions of NGO neutrality and impartiality, forcing the NGOs to withdraw for four weeks. As of early October, opposition officials continued to pressure NGOs to provide lodging for their personnel in Pagak.
Armed violence also continued to affect civilians and hinder humanitarian organizations’ response. During the government offensive in Greater Upper Nile in April and May, several humanitarian compounds in Leer, Mayendit, Koch, and Guit Counties in Unity State were attacked, and international and some national NGOs evacuated staff from those counties.
Between April and June the violence in Unity State and in neighboring Upper Nile State resulted in the deaths of at least six humanitarian staff; 150 other staff remained unaccounted for at year’s end, with many likely having fled to the swamps of southern Unity State. Food and other assistance were looted or destroyed. The deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure and livelihoods during the violence resulted in massive displacement. Government forces and allied militia burned crops and homes, and looted livestock, tools, and other household items. In some cases cattle were shot. By looting cattle, the SPLA deprived the opposition of sources of sustenance and simultaneously destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of civilians.
Looting remained a persistent concern among relief agencies. For example, on May 26, a rapid assessment trip to Leer town in Unity State by relief personnel found that armed persons--likely SPLA or affiliated armed militia groups--looted humanitarian assets during heavy fighting in early May. They had taken vehicles, furniture, and other office items. One observer reported that armed elements had looted several of its nutrition clinics, taking emergency nutrition supplies meant to treat children with acute malnutrition. Doctors without Borders (MSF) confirmed armed actors looted Leer Hospital, the only fully functioning hospital in southern Unity State. International MSF staff evacuated Leer on May 9. Approximately 200 local hospital staff fled to the bush as armed forces approached, taking nine patients with them, four of whom were in critical condition.
During the government’s spring offensive beginning in May, clashes between government and opposition forces in western Upper Nile State resulted in damage to, and destruction and looting of humanitarian assets. For example, one international NGO estimated in mid-June it lost $616,000 in assets as a result of looting or destruction in Melut County, Upper Nile State. While unidentified persons looted the relief items and operational supplies, drugs and medical supplies were lost due to the destruction of the organization’s warehouse. The NGO had been prepositioning supplies in it for the rainy season. Some of the supplies destroyed were emergency medicines destined for Baliet County. An SPLA attack on Kodok town, Fashoda County, Upper Nile State, on July 5 damaged a health facility managed by the ICRC resulting in the death of one patient, and forced the ICRC to evacuate its international staff.
During the year relief personnel reported increased interference and harassment from the government, particularly following the June 1 expulsion of the UN humanitarian coordinator from the country. For example, in June security forces in Juba reportedly raided the offices and detained the staff of two domestic NGOs supporting humanitarian operations throughout the country. According to the South Sudan NGO Forum, 90 percent of NGOs reported in June that during the year their organizations had become more concerned about the safety of their staff.
In addition increased crime and the inability of security forces to react further limited humanitarian access, particularly in Juba. Deterioration of the rule of law threatened the integrity of NGO assets and installations. The NGO Forum reported that between January and June, approximately 40 percent of NGOs had assets or premises looted and 45 percent had staff threatened or harassed. During the week of September 7, burglaries of three relief agency compounds occurred during daylight hours in Juba; one staff member was killed. As of September 28, the Humanitarian Country Team, a group of senior humanitarian representatives from the UN, NGOs, and donors providing strategic guidance for the humanitarian response reported that an average of one NGO compound break-in occurred every two days in Juba.
A lack of security assurances from the government delayed the provision of humanitarian aid. For example, the SPLA informed the UN on July 13 that it would no longer provide security clearances for barges transporting humanitarian commodities via river; barge transport between Bor in Jonglei State and Malakal in Upper Nile State resumed after the government lifted the ban on August 5. Between June 15 and 24, the government denied UN requests for flight security assurances for flights to Malakal, resulting in the cancellation of 10 cargo flights scheduled to transport 198 tons of relief commodities to Malakal and Wau Shilluk in Upper Nile State and preventing the movement of nearly 90 humanitarian personnel.
Relief staff continued to face access challenges despite the signing of the August 26 peace agreement, which requires signatories to create a political, administrative, operational, and legal environment conducive for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. During the week of September 20, the government failed to approve approximately half of the requests for flight security assurances submitted to it, the Humanitarian Country Team reported on September 28.
Introduction: Abyei is a disputed region between Sudan and South Sudan that, according to agreements between the two governments, is to be jointly administered until a referendum on the final status of the area is held. After conflict in 2011 between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces, the UN established the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The security situation in Abyei was tenuous throughout the year due to rising tensions between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities compounded by deteriorating economic conditions and the unresolved 2013 killing of paramount chief of the Ngok Dinka, Kuol Deng Kuol. By year’s end the African Union and the Abyei Area Joint Investigation and Inquiry Committee did not release their reports of investigations into the killings of Kuol, an Ethiopian UNISFA peacekeeper, and 16 Misseriya tribesmen.
Several humanitarian aid NGOs continued to provide mobile outreach services in Abyei from their bases in South Sudan.
During the year there were some incidents of violence between the two communities.
Killings: Press, NGOs, and UNISFA reported a March attack in Marial Achak by approximately 100 armed Misseriya that resulted in three deaths and the abductions of six children. UNISFA troops apprehended eight of the armed individuals, including one member of the Tora Bora militia group and a Sudanese Armed Forces officer; the government of Sudan alleged he was a member of a revolutionary faction.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: UNISFA reported the continued intermittent and illegal presence of SPLA forces in southern Abyei and Sudanese Armed Forces in Diffra. Violence in Marial Achak and elsewhere included destruction of homes, increasing the number of IDPs.