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Resurgence of Violent Conflict and Displacement Once Again

During the short-lived peace both the GoSS’s capacity and the international community’s support proved to be lagging far behind the pressures created or exacerbated by the return of vast numbers of refugees. As national and state-level formal structures—in terms of services, infrastructure, and governance—remained grossly inadequate to receive a major influx of people with diverging needs and expectations, the burden of accommodating the needs of the returnee population continued to fall on host families. Reducing the high levels of insecurity, strengthening the provision of services, supporting human and economic development, finding solutions to the complex land issues, and addressing the high levels of uncontrolled urbanization in Juba and several other larger towns were among the unresolved matters that contributed to the unsustain?ability of return. As the absorptive capacity of local communities was increasingly overstretched, additional stress accrued on what already was a deeply fragile transitional period.

On December 15, 2013, gunfire erupted in the South Sudanese capital. Within hours, violence spread within and beyond the city, following what some have categorized as an attempted coup. Witnesses agreed that Government security forces in Juba targeted the Nuer people, the ethnic group of the former vice president and current commander of the opposition, Riek Machar (HRW 2014b; International Crisis Group 2014). The political confrontation between power contenders within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has been regarded as the primary proximate trigger of the conflict. It also is undeniable that the unsustainability of the earlier return and reintegration process discussed earlier in this chapter contributed to the widespread violence because unaddressed grievances and a lack of alternative viable opportunities facilitated the recruitment of disenfranchised youth.

The violent clashes soon escalated, giving way to a deadly pattern of revenge and counterrevenge attacks along Dinka-Nuer ethnic lines. Tens of thousands of civilians subsequently fled to the two UN Missions in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases in Juba, prompting the hasty establishment of UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites. Replicating this initial pattern, when violence reached the state capitals of Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal, large numbers of civilians, government officials, and even military personnel fled to the UNMISS bases in the towns seeking protection. Three possible options became available to those fleeing the violence: staying in nearby PoC sites; walking long distances to areas perceived as more stable within South Sudan; or crossing international borders to neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda (Arensen 2016, 14).

The targeting of civilians once again has led to major population displacement. As was the case with earlier stages of the conflict, children and youth of both genders have once more become central stakeholders of the violence—often as deliberately targeted victims but also as perpetrators. In May 2014, UNICEF reported that an estimated 9000 minors had been recruited by all warring parties (Tidey 2014) in spite of official pronouncements[1] to the contrary (UNICEF 2014). By the end of 2015 those numbers had significantly increased so that between 15,000 and 16,000 children were estimated to have been recruited by armed actors (OCHA 2015). An interim report on the conflict published by the South Sudan Government’s Human Rights Commission documented “gross violations of the right to life of not only combatants but also of innocent and defenceless civilians including children, women, and the vulnerable” (SSHRC 2014, 6). These violations have been confirmed by multiple additional sources (Amnesty International 2014a, b; Human Rights Watch 2014; OCHA 2014; UNMISS 2014).

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance estimates that, at the end of 2015, nearly one in every three schools in South Sudan had been destroyed, damaged, occupied, or closed, impacting the education of more than 900,000 children, including some 350,000 who had been forced out of school by the conflict. More than 10,000 children have been registered as unaccompanied, separated, or missing. Even prior to the outbreak of the conflict, large parts of the country were experiencing uncertain food supplies and were in need of support. At the end of 2015, a third of the population in South Sudan was facing severe food insecurity (IPC 2015). More than 686,200 children under age 5 were estimated to be acutely malnourished, including more than 231,300 who were severely malnourished.

More than one million children are believed to be at risk of psychosocial distress (OCHA 2015). Sexual violence against women and girls is reportedly also common in all the main conflict-affected zones including Juba, Unity, Jonglei, and the Upper Nile states (Amnesty International 2014a), as well as at PoC sites (Arensen 2016). UNMISS similarly noted that the “conflict has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and children in South Sudan to sexual violence” (UNMISS 2014, 49).

Two and a half years of violent conflict has devastated the lives of millions of South Sudanese, leaving an as yet unknown number of people dead, maimed, and/or injured. More than 2.3 million people—1 in every

5 people in South Sudan—have been forced to flee their homes. The number of those internally displaced is estimated at 1.66 million, with 53.4 % of them estimated to be children. Some 185,000 internally displaced people have sought refuge at PoC sites, while around 90 % of IDPs are on the run or are sheltered outside PoC sites. Nearly 644,900 had been refugees in neighboring countries at the end of 2015 (OCHA 2015). A report about South Sudanese refugees living in the Adjumani District of northern Uganda, based on field research carried out by the International Refugee Rights Initiative, concluded that:

Most of those who were interviewed had been displaced at least once before, and their (re)displacement points to the tragedy that is being played out for those who had returned to South Sudan leading up to and after independence. (Hovil 2014, 3)

A plethora of initiatives culminated in a series of peace agreements, including negotiations mediated by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional political and economic development block for Eastern Africa; international sanctions; arms embargoes; and intraparty dialogues. Initially, all of these accords where almost immediately disregarded by the warring parties. A Peace Agreement signed in August 2015 has made intermittent progress, including the reinstallment of rebel leader Riek Machar as vice president on April 26, 2016. The peace process, nevertheless, has continued to face significant setbacks. New areas of conflict have erupted in previously stable parts of the country such as Western Equatoria and theWestern Bahr el Ghazal states. Meanwhile, Southern Unity continues to be severely affected by armed violence and the targeting of civilians perceived to be loyal to the rebel forces. Analysts and observers fear that the Peace Agreement could fall apart entirely (Sperber 2016).

  • [1] South Sudan is one of eight countries involved in the campaign Children, not Soldiers, launchedin March 2014 by the Special Representative and UNICEF. The campaign aims to end and toprevent the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces listed by the Secretary-General in his Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.
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