a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The United Nations, international ceasefire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were also responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).
There were numerous reported unlawful killings similar to the following example: According to the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), on February 26, SPLA forces attacked the town of Modit in Northern Jonglei. According to eyewitness reports, the soldiers looted and burned numerous properties, including those belonging to an international NGO. Reportedly, the SPLA targeted a tukul (a South Sudanese hut), in which a number of schoolchildren had sought refuge. According to witnesses, SPLA soldiers set it alight with the children inside and stood at the door of the tukul to ensure the children were eventually burnt to death.
Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).
There were numerous reported disappearances similar to the following: In January opposition official Marko Lokidor Lochapio was abducted from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Human rights groups alleged Lokidor was illegally extradited to South Sudan and held in detention without charge at the National Security Service (NSS) headquarters in Juba. In February Information Minister Michael Makuei categorically denied the government had custody of Lochapio; however, the government later admitted this was a lie and Lochapio was released from NSS Headquarters on October 25.
There were no updates in the cases of Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Idris Ezbon, who were forcibly abducted from Kenya and illegally extradited to South Sudan in 2017. While human rights groups alleged the NSS is holding them without charge, their whereabouts remained unknown.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The transitional constitution prohibits such practices, but security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).
One ex-detainee interviewed by Amnesty International described his detention by the NSS by saying, “if they thought you had misbehaved, they would beat you. If the soldiers come in drunk, they would beat you. The torturing there is beyond (words). Some people are tortured even with electricity. People are beaten to the point of collapsing.”
There were numerous reported abuses including sexual and gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. According to Amnesty International, throughout the year thousands of persons were victims of sexual violence by government forces, including “rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, torture, castration, or forced nudity”.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. While some prisons employed doctors, medical care was rudimentary, and prison physicians often had inadequate training and supplies. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.
Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally, but not always, held in separate areas, but male and female inmates often mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.
Nonviolent offenders are kept with violent offenders because of resource and spatial constraints. In 2016 the National Prison Service (NPS) reported holding 162 inmates with mental disabilities. Persons determined by a judge to be sufficiently dangerous (and “mentally ill”) following referral by family or the community, are incarcerated, medicated, and remain in detention until a medical evaluation determines they are no longer a threat and can be released.
Health care and sanitation were inadequate, and basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.
Malnutrition and lack of medical care contributed to inmate deaths, although no statistics were available.
Detention centers were under the control of local tribal or state authorities, and conditions were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees sometimes spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting.
Conditions in SPLA-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) maintained facilities at Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu, and Bor to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, or due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into PoC sites because of threats from their victims, or the threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered medical treatment for serious complications. Prisoners received food twice a day.
The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).
Administration: The NPS continued reporting of prisoner totals from all state prisons to its Juba headquarters, including statistics on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities (see section 1.d.). There were no prison ombudsmen.
The NPS allowed prisoner’s access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SPLA authorities were less likely to do so. The NPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom took action.
Independent Monitoring: The NPS permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit detention facilities operated by the SPLA. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.
Since the beginning of the crisis in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.). While not legally vested with the authority, the SPLA often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS also routinely detained civilians. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. Police also routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.
There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions similar to the following examples: On July 28, prominent South Sudanese academic and activist Dr. Peter Biar Ajak was arrested at Juba International Airport. As of December he was still being held with no access to legal counsel or other visitors.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over any of the security forces, and the government has no effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.
The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. Consisting largely of former SPLA soldiers, it was poorly trained, corrupt, and widely distrusted. Authorities often based detentions on accusations rather than investigations. They rarely investigated complaints of police abuse. Police often went months without pay; they solicited bribes or sought compensation, often in the form of food or fuel, for services rendered to civilians.
A recent nationwide citizen security poll, however, conducted in November through the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, a national network of local civil society actors, stated that 78 percent of those polled said they go to the police when they are a victim or witness a crime.
The SPLA is responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operates under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs; current and former military personnel staffed the ministry. The SPLA does not have law enforcement authority, unless acting at the request of civil authorities. Nevertheless, the SPLA regularly exercised police functions, in part due to the limited presence and general ineffectiveness of law enforcement in many areas. It routinely detained persons, including in SPLA-run detention facilities to which monitors generally had little or no access. The SPLA’s approach to internal security and civilian disarmament was often unsystematic and disproportionate, contributing to conflict within and between communities while undermining the government’s legitimacy in conflict areas. The law requires cases of SPLA abuse of civilians to be heard in civilian courts, but there were no reports of cases being referred. Following the July 2016 attack on civilians at the Terrain Hotel compound in Juba, the government pursued a high-profile court-martial against 12 SPLA soldiers, obtaining the conviction in September of some low-level soldiers who participated in the attack. The 10 soldiers convicted were a fraction of the total number believed to have been involved in the attack, even according to the government’s report on the incident, and no high-ranking officers were investigated based on their command responsibilities.
The NSS, which has arrest and detention authority only in matters relating to national security, often detained civil society activists, businesspersons, NGO personnel, journalists, and others to intimidate them, particularly if the NSS believed they supported opposition figures. Authorities rarely investigated complaints of arbitrary detention, harassment, excessive force, and torture.
The South Sudan Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over national parks and wildlife trafficking crimes. They often assume general law enforcement jurisdiction in rural areas.
Impunity of the security services was a serious problem. Reportedly, although some internal investigations within the army and police were launched during the year, no cases of security sector abuse were referred to civilian courts, and undue command influence over the military justice system was a persistent problem.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
While the law requires police to bring arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, there were no public prosecutors or magistrates available below the county level in most areas. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to bring arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to influence them to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.
The code of criminal procedure allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by justice-sector authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to ethnicity or possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SPLA and NSS often abused political opponents and others whom they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures also led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located. In May NSS officers arrested and detained local businessman Kerbino Wol Agok, and he remained detained on unknown or unfiled charges at year’s end. On October 7, Kerbino and other detainees led a strike within the NSS detention facility in protest of these arbitrary detentions without charges. After briefly seizing control of the facility, the prisoners laid down arms. Following their surrender, Kerbino and others have been denied visits by family members and lawyers.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and judicial systems became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.
Amnesty: On August 8, President Salva Kiir declared a “general amnesty to the leader of SPLM-IO Dr. Riek Machar Teny and other estranged groups who waged war against the Government of the Republic of South Sudan from 2013 to date.” The government, however, continued to hold political prisoners who should have been released according to this order, and most of the opposition remained outside of the country. This general grant of amnesty also potentially posed serious impediments to achieving justice and accountability for the victims of atrocity crimes.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level.
In the majority of communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of justice services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most crimes other than murder. Customary courts can deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge can sentence the individual who commits a killing to no more than 10 years. Government courts also heard cases of violent crime and acted as appeals courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.
Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently.
Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), be tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.
Despite these protections, law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects to be guilty, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely, if ever, offered. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates often compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.
Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.
Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common. Some customary courts, particularly those in urban areas, had fairly sophisticated procedures, and verdicts were consistent. Some customary court judges in Juba kept records that were equal to or better than those kept in government courts.
Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Reportedly, in an effort to intimidate or stifle opposition, and despite a public pledge to release political prisoners as part of the peace agreement, there were reports of dozens of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, and usually without charge. Prominent political prisoners were often held for extended periods of time and were sometimes sentenced to death.
For example, in February, during separate trials for conspiracy to overthrow the government, opposition members James Gatdet Dak and William John Endley were sentenced to death, among other charges. President Kiir pardoned both of them during the peace celebration on October 31, and they were released.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to bring claims to address human rights violations, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.
The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances, where the population was perceived to be antigovernment, of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions.
To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Since the conflict between the government and opposition forces began in 2013, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and civilians committed conflict-related abuses and violations around the country. Despite an August 2015 peace agreement, patterns of abuse intensified after renewed fighting broke out in July 2016 and have continued since. While both sides of the conflict committed abuses, the United Nations and international NGOs reported government forces were responsible for an increasing number of conflict-related abuses against civilians. As conflict spread to the region of central and east Equatoria (which prior to 2016 had been mostly spared from violence), government soldiers reportedly engaged in acts of collective punishment and revenge killings against civilians assumed to be opposition supporters, and often based on their ethnicity. In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on a pattern of deliberately targeting civilians based on their ethnic identity, including obstruction of humanitarian aid, and identified more than 40 senior military officials who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Atrocities included unlawful killings, rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention and torture, enforced disappearances, explosive remnants of war, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting, and use of child soldiers.
Casualty totals were difficult to estimate because the belligerents typically did not maintain accurate records. In September the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported that the conflict had left at least 382,000 individuals dead. The number of IDPs and refugees increased to approximately 4.4 million at year’s end. Humanitarian aid workers were increasingly targeted, harassed, and killed.
Killings: Government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government, frequently prompted by opposition ambushes of government soldiers, engaged in a pattern of collective punishment of civilians perceived to be opposition supporters, often based on ethnicity. There were many instances of such killings similar to the following: According to a report from the UNMISS Human Rights Division (HRD), from February until July, government aligned forces attacked at least 40 villages or settlements within Unity State. HRD documented the killings of at least 232 civilians, including 35 children, 50 women–including 25 killed by hanging, and 63 children, elderly individuals, and persons with disabilities who were burned alive across these locations. Based upon the access limitations of human rights documenters, the number of victims was presumed to be much larger. According to an October joint UNMISS and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report, opposition forces engaged in unlawful killings of civilians.
Scorched earth tactics typical of the way armed forces conducted operations included: killing and raping civilians; looting cattle and goods; destroying property to prevent the return of those who managed to flee, followed by repeated incursions into an area to prevent the return of those who fled; and frequently obstructing humanitarian assistance. Displaced civilians were often forced to travel great distances to reach the shelter, food, and safety of the UN-run PoC camps, in dangerous circumstances, or hide in marshes where they risked drowning or starvation.
UN agencies and international NGOs that interviewed victims reported widespread killings, mutilations, and sexual violence, largely committed by government forces.
Remnants of war also led to the killing and maiming of civilians. In March, five children were killed when a grenade they were playing with exploded. Remnants of war were often left behind in schools used by government and opposition forces, and armed actors affiliated with both.
Abductions: Abductions, particularly of women and children, 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. The United Nations and international NGOs reported multiple accounts of government soldiers or other security service members arbitrarily detaining or arresting civilians, sometimes leading to unlawful killings. UNMISS’ HRD documented that, during SPLA-IO attacks in Western Equatoria between April and August, at least 887 civilians were abducted, mostly women (505) and girls (63). The UN expressed concern that the women and girls were raped or sexually enslaved and that the men (278) and boys (41) were forcibly recruited to take part in hostilities.
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. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was a common tactic of war employed by all parties. According to a ceasefire monitoring report, in May government forces entered the grounds of Emmanuel Christian College in Goli, gathered members of the community and the internally displaced individuals they were sheltering, and interrogated them. Seven men were gathered together and executed, and three others were killed in their homes or in the open. Among those killed was a young boy who was shot and killed. After death, one of the soldiers mutilated the body of the boy by inserting a stick into his anus. The soldiers took four men with them whose whereabouts remained unknown.
In November more than 150 women and girls were raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence from armed men, many in uniform, near the northern city of Bentiu. These women and girls had been raped while walking to emergency food distribution centers set up by international aid agencies. As of December no one had been held accountable for these mass rapes.
Ceasefire monitors documented 154 SGBV cases over two months in Juba and the surrounding area. Most of these cases were reportedly rapes committed by “uniformed armed males.” Many rapes were the result of home invasions where two to three soldiers entered a home in the early morning or night and gang raped women, often in front of other family members. Reportedly, in addition to rape, women were mutilated, including by having their ears or fingers cut off. While rape occurred across the country, this report focused on offenses occurring in or near the capital, which is under government control. Despite widespread reporting of the problem, there was only one report of uniformed personnel being arrested for these attacks. Human rights groups noted most SGBV cases went unreported. UN officials who interviewed survivors reported gang rape was common.
Men were also victims of sexual violence, but on a far reduced scale. In 2017 Amnesty International reported male survivors of sexual violence described rape, castration, and forms of torture. In its February report, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan noted that rape, mutilations of sexual organs and other forms of sexual violence, targeting girls, boys, women, and men, were often committed in front of children, humiliating the victims, their families, and their communities.
Child Soldiers: Following the outbreak of conflict in 2013, forced conscription by government forces, as well as recruitment and use of child soldiers by both government and antigovernment forces, increased. During the year there were widespread reports these forces continued abducting and recruiting child soldiers. Girls were recruited to wash, cook, and clean for government and opposition forces.
UNICEF estimated, as of April, at least 19,000 children had been recruited in the country since the conflict began in 2013 and blamed government, opposition, and militia forces.
The August 2015 peace agreement mandated specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SPLA, the SPLA-IO, the Nuer White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. UNICEF warned renewed fighting undermined the progress it had made in demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers, and it acknowledged some of the children had been rerecruited.
Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Throughout the year the environment for humanitarian operations grew increasingly difficult and dangerous as the geographic scope of humanitarian need expanded. Armed actors, including government and opposition forces, continued to restrict the ability of the United Nations and other international and nongovernmental organizations to safely and effectively deliver humanitarian assistance to populations in need. Access was impeded by direct denials, bureaucratic barriers, and renewed fighting in areas of the country where humanitarian needs were highest. Despite repeated safety assurances, armed elements harassed and killed relief workers, looted and destroyed humanitarian assets and facilities, and government and rebel authorities imposed bureaucratic and economic impediments on relief organizations. On multiple occasions, fighting between armed forces put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, forced the evacuation of relief workers, and jeopardized humanitarian operations, including forcing organizations to suspend life-saving operations entirely in areas of active conflict. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions often prevented relief workers from traveling to conflict and nonconflict areas. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) access working group, negotiated with government and opposition forces and other armed groups to address access problems; however, these negotiations were often protracted and caused significant delays in the delivery of assistance.
The humanitarian operating environment became more volatile, increasingly jeopardizing the safety of humanitarian workers throughout the country. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention. Since the start of the conflict in December 2013, the United Nations reported at least 107 humanitarian staff members had been killed in the country, 18 of them during the year. For example, unidentified armed actors on July 5 attacked a humanitarian convoy traveling from Juba to Bor town, Jonglei, resulting in the death of a South Sudanese driver.
Looting of humanitarian compounds and other assets was also common. On July 24, unidentified actors in protest of local hiring practices rioted in Maban. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 14 other humanitarian organizations’ offices were looted, ransacked, and destroyed, resulting in all but essential staff being evacuated and most humanitarian activities being suspended. The UN agency notified local authorities, who declined to take action to stop the attackers.
Restrictions on humanitarian operations took other forms as well. NSS authorities operating at Juba International Airport arbitrarily denied humanitarian workers internal travel permission and for a variety of constantly changing reasons including a lack of: 1) work permits; 2) permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 3) travel approval from the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission; 4) at least six blank pages in their passports, or because they did not have six months’ validity left on their passport. These restrictions were implemented inconsistently, without notice or consultation, prompting confusion regarding the required travel procedures.
Humanitarian organizations also experienced delays (some up to six months or more) and denials of tax exemptions and were forced to purchase relief supplies on the local market, raising quality concerns. Government authorities began requesting international NGO staff pay income taxes and threatened national staff into paying income tax at the state level.
Continuing conflict and access denial to humanitarian actors was the leading contributor to households facing famine conditions. It was difficult to accurately gather information and assess areas due to insecurity. For example, in August 2017 SPLA-IO forces detained two World Food Program-contracted volunteers conducting a food security and nutrition monitoring survey in Yei County’s Minyori town. The SPLA-IO detained the volunteers for more than a week on alleged charges of espionage and tortured them while in custody.
NGOs reported that opposition-held areas experienced a greater level of food insecurity due to the conflict and resulting displacement. In 2017 Amnesty International alleged the government was using food as a weapon of war. In February the UN Human Rights Council on South Sudan reported that humanitarian aid had been deliberately blocked from reaching civilians perceived to be from the “other side” or based on ethnicity.