South Sudan is a republic operating under a transitional government formed according to the terms of peace agreements signed in August 2015 and September 2018. 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. 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. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.
The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The South Sudanese People’s Defense Forces are responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operate under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. The Internal Security Bureau of the National Security Service, under the Ministry of National Security, has arrest authority for cases connected to national security but operates far beyond its legal authority. Numerous irregular forces, including militias operated by the National Security Service and proxy forces, operate in the country with official knowledge. Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous serious abuses.
In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities and the conflict spread. The parties signed several cease-fire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A cease-fire generally held from August 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in 2018, which continued to hold as of mid-September. Fighting between government forces and other groups not party to the peace agreement, referred to as the “nonsignatories,” continued in the Greater Equatoria region. Subnational violence, often labeled “intercommunal” but frequently reflecting political causes, also continued, particularly in Jonglei and Warrap States.
Significant human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based, targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, mass forced displacement, widespread sexual and gender-based violence, and use of food as a weapon of war; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against and intimidation and detention of journalists; closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; the use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite isolated examples of prosecution for these crimes, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.
Nongovernment armed groups, including the forces of peace agreement signatories and other opposition armed groups alike, also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment of children and adults into combat and noncombat roles.