South Sudan’s Forgotten Conflict

South Sudan Forgotten Conflict

Lara Kajs | 13 September 2022 |

It has been a decade since the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence in the streets. However, the last ten years have been anything but joyful. What the people have come to know in South Sudan’s forgotten conflict is government corruption, and human suffering.

No Government Accountability

The government has failed to keep any of its promises, and it has been absent from its responsibilities to the people. Negligent spending has exhausted the country’s resources. The leaders have failed to invest in education, failed to end chronic starvation, and done nothing to stop the corruption that has kept the country dysfunctional. The judicial system is broken. Infrastructure and basic services are virtually nonexistent. The country depends on outside humanitarian aid. There is no accountability, and despite the fact that there is a peace agreement in place… South Sudan is still at war.

South Sudan won its independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011. But the peace process that brought the country its independence did not address the deep marginalization, or the objections of the people, including the brutalities that civilians suffered from all sides – and the oversight led to violence. In December 2013, conflict ensued from a power struggle between political elites that manipulated ethnic divisions and did nothing to end human rights violations. It quickly escalated and has continued for nearly nine years.

Displacement and Deep Need for Humanitarian Relief

Since the start of the conflict, more than 400,000 people have been killed. Hope turned to desperation as approximately 2.5 million people fled South Sudan’s borders to seek safety in neighboring countries. At least 1.9 million people have been internally displaced. Some 34,000 people are living in protection of civilian (POC) displacement camps on UN bases in South Sudan.

Food harvests have been less than half of what they have been in previous years in ninety percent of the country. But the lack of harvest is not limited to the conflict but is also a result of mass flooding and droughts. There is little to no access to safe drinking water, food, or healthcare, and this is felt frighteningly deeper among the displaced populations. The people are caught between extreme starvation, conflict, and climate crisis.

At least 8.5 million people (sixty percent of the population) in South Sudan need humanitarian aid. Nearly 1.5 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Malnutrition is the leading cause of death among children. One in seven children in South Sudan dies before the age of five years old. There is a desperation that pleads for urgent attention.

There is extreme poverty throughout South Sudan. Little help is given to the people by their own government. People rely heavily on humanitarian aid, and much of that has been diminished due to conflict and donor countries’ mistrust of the South Sudan government’s unaccountable spending and corruption.

Human Rights of Children

Children are at risk of abduction, forced displacement, violence, and gender-based violence. They are also deprived of their right to education. South Sudan has the highest number of children without access to education in the world, nearly seventy percent of the child population (4.8 million children) are not in school due to accessibility and opportunity. For girls, education is hindered by poverty, violence, and equality, based on cultural biases. Child marriage is another hurdle to girls’ education, with nearly forty-five percent of girls married before their eighteenth birthday and seven percent married before their fifteenth birthday.

Both political and military leaders have encouraged fighting by supplying munitions to communities. Intercommunal violence is widespread in South Sudan. Historic contentions often over political agendas stirred by the capital – but frequently over land and livestock – continue some level of fighting. In the Jonglei State, the hospitals are filled with people recovering from gunshot wounds, many of them children. The conflict has also increased the number of sexual assaults. Rape is frequently used as a weapon of conflict – to suppress communities.

Freedoms are restricted. Civilians’ right to question the government and voice their opinion has all but been erased. Journalism has been harshly impeded as activists and journalists have been subjected to surveillance, attacks, detainment, and censored.

Peace Agreement, but No Peace

A peace agreement was reached and signed in 2018, which formed the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (Unity government), which included members of previous warring parties. However, the peace agreement is weak, does not go far enough to address the root causes of the conflict, and has been only partially implemented or delayed.

The peace agreement includes the establishment of a truth, reconciliation, and healing commission to investigate the resolutions of the war and recommend outcomes for the victims and survivors. It proposes reparations to compensate those who suffered material damages to property. It provides a hybrid court to be established within the African Union to hold those persons accountable who committed war crimes during the conflict. And it provided for a thirty-six-month transition period. In January 2021, the government gave the approval to establish the institutions.

However, despite a peace agreement and a Unity government in place, little has been done to implement the conditions and recommendations of the agreement. As for conditions on the ground, additional peacekeepers have been deployed in the country following a horrific surge of violence including attacks on humanitarians, beheadings, burning civilians alive, rapes, and gang rapes.

Until direct action is taken by the government, and it follows through on the peace agreement – there will be no peace… just a piece of paper saying there could be.

Photo Credit: Protection of Civilians (POC) Site in Malakal, South Sudan. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine