South Sudan is a republic operating under the terms of a peace agreement signed in August 2015. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. While the 2010 Sudan-wide elections did not wholly meet international standards, international observers believed Kiir’s election reflected the will of a large majority of Southern Sudanese. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. President Kiir was a founding member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) political party, the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Of the 30 ministers in the government, 16 were appointed by Kiir, 10 by the SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO), two by a political faction known as the Former Detainees, and two by the group known as “other political parties” as provided for in the peace agreement. The bicameral legislature consists of a Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) with 400 seats (68 were added in accordance with the peace agreement), of which 296 were filled, and a Council of States with 50 seats. SPLM representatives controlled the vast majority of seats in the legislature. The SPLM-IO alleged, however, that appointments to the 68 new seats did not meet the criteria of the peace agreement. Through presidential decrees, Kiir appointed new governors, having already replaced eight of the 10 state governors elected since 2010. The constitution states that a gubernatorial election must be held within 60 days if an elected governor has been relieved by presidential decree. This has not happened.
Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.
In 2013 armed conflict between government and opposition forces began when violence erupted within the SPLA’s Presidential Guard, also known as the Tiger Division. Some reports indicated Presidential Guard members of Dinka ethnicity attempted to disarm members of Nuer ethnicity. During the weeks that followed, Dinka members of the Presidential Guard and other security forces reportedly conducted targeted killings of Nuer civilians in Juba. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported largescale reciprocal targeting of Dinka civilians by Nuer forces in the city of Bor. The events led to armed conflict between government forces and a newly formed opposition force, the SPLA-IO, in several states and to ethnic violence by civilians that continued throughout 2014 and 2015, despite multiple ceasefire agreements. While initial violence was concentrated in Juba in Central Equatoria state, the conflict quickly spread to--and largely remained in Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Unity states, known collectively as the Greater Upper Nile region. Human rights abuses by government and opposition forces and their associated armed militias occurred on a massive scale.
In April 2015, a largescale government offensive in the Greater Upper Nile region led to some of the worst violence of the conflict. Rape, extrajudicial killings, targeting of civilian populations along ethnic lines, destruction of homes to drive possible opposition supporters into the wilderness, and denial of humanitarian access took place. The numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) increased significantly during the year. In August 2015, members of the armed opposition, Former Detainees (led by 10 former SPLM officials), and the government signed the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Plus Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. Despite efforts to implement the agreement, fighting continued in some areas, particularly in Upper Nile and Unity states.
In October 2015, the president issued a controversial order to increase the number of the country’s states from 10 to 28, a move that may have contravened the 2011 transitional constitution and some provisions of the peace agreement. The SPLM-IO and Former Detainees protested. Beginning in December 2015, more than 200 members of the SPLM-IO arrived in Juba, as parties began to implement major provisions of the peace agreement, including establishing a transitional government. In April, after months of negotiations, SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar Teny returned to the capital from abroad and was sworn in as first vice president under the terms of a power-sharing agreement. By June; however, little progress had been made to implement the peace agreement.
Early July fighting in Juba between the SPLA and SPLA-IO resulted in more than 300 deaths. Widespread attacks on civilians, including ethnically based killings and sexual assaults, were reported. During approximately five days of fighting in the capital, thousands of persons were displaced, with an estimated 12,000 seeking refuge at UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in the capital. According to the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan, there was an apparent ethnic dimension to the fighting, and, “the indiscriminate use of weapons by both the SPLA and the SPLA-IO displayed a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians and the inviolability of UN premises.” Having suffered heavy losses, Machar and hundreds of his fighters fled the capital and, eventually, the country. At year’s end, Machar remained in South Africa.
While fighting in Juba ended in July, it expanded to other parts of the country. The conflict displaced approximately 3.1 million persons displaced internally and as refugees in neighboring countries. In late July, Kiir replaced Machar as first vice president with Taban Deng Gai, a move Machar deemed unconstitutional. Although the SPLM-IO members who remained in Juba selected Gai as Machar’s replacement, other SPLM-IO members questioned the legitimacy of the selection process and Gai’s position as first vice president. At year’s end, ethnic polarization was on the increase, and hate speech, spread by both conventional and social media, was on the rise, accompanied by targeted killings and rape on ethnic lines. In a December 1 press release, the UN Commission on Human Rights warned, “There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages.”
The most serious human rights problems in the country were conflict related abuses by government security forces, opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with the government and the opposition, and rival ethnic communities, including ethnically based killings of civilians and ethnically based discrimination and violence; extrajudicial killings, abuse, and mass displacement of civilians; and intimidation and inhuman treatment of civilians such as arbitrary arrest and detention, abductions and kidnapping, recruitment and use of an estimated 16,000 child soldiers; and conflict related sexual violence. Attacks on military and civilian targets often resulted in rape, destruction of villages, theft, looting, and revenge attacks on civilians. Security force abuses unrelated to the armed conflict included extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, intimidation, unlawful detention, and other inhuman treatment of civilians.
Other human rights abuses included harassment, intimidation, and violence against journalists, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders; harsh prison conditions; lack of access to justice, including arbitrary arrest and indefinite pretrial detention; government restriction of freedoms of privacy, speech, press, and association; and abductions related to inter-communal and inter-ethnic conflict, particularly of women and children. Corruption among government officials was pervasive. Violence and discrimination against women and children and within communities by officials were widespread. In addition, trafficking in persons, government incitement of tribal violence, and child labor, including forced labor, also occurred.
Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.