The Republic of South Sudan is recognized as the world’s youngest country. Established in 2011 when the people voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Republic of Sudan, and become a sovereign independent state after decades of civil war that left some 2.5 million dead. South Sudan is a member of the United Nations, as well as the African Union and is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
Sadly, South Sudan has not had an easy start. There are more than 200 ethnic groups in South Sudan – the Dinka and Nuer have the largest numbers. In 2013 civil conflict began in the capital city of Juba, as a struggle for political control ensued between President Salva Kiir (Dinka) and his ex-deputy Riek Machar (Nuer). The conflict has led to daunting economic, security and humanitarian risks to the South Sudanese and their neighbors.
The Road to Conflict
In 2013 President Kiir dismissed then Vice President Machar and the entire cabinet of ministers for openly opposing his leadership. Initially the fighting was primarily between the Dinka and Nuer within the government, the conflict soon involved the civilian population. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented an incident in which as many as 300 Nuer men were rounded up and executed in a police station in Juba by security forces. Many thousands of ethnic Nuer sought refuge in camps – many are still there.
There have been several summits to aid in bringing peace to South Sudan; however talks have not resulted in any positive outcome. Although other countries (including the United States and European Union) have threatened to impose punitive measures against South Sudan unless a peaceful agreement is met, the threats have gone without heed by the powers, at the expense of the civilians caught in the middle of the struggle for control. While UN Security General Ban Ki Moon has pushed for punitive measures against those obstructing with the process to a peaceful accord – no steps have been taken against the warring parties.
Nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced and at least 730,000 have sought refuge in other countries and there are many thousands dead from the conflict. Reports indicated that 90 percent of displaced persons are women and children. Additionally, the UN estimates at least 9,000 children have been pulled out of school and recruited as child soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Malnutrition is a constant concern as a result of the conflict. Humanitarian relief agencies estimated that more than two million people face food insecurity in South Sudan and will starve to death if the situation does not change quickly.
The United Nations, humanitarian relief and other human rights organizations report forced disappearances, mass rape, torture, burned villages, targeted attacks against women and children and killings. Violence and brutality in the region has become so extreme that many humanitarian organizations have had to evacuate, leaving the people vulnerable without life-saving assistance.
Accountability without Impunity
In June 2015 the United Nations released a report that included numerous accounts of extreme violence and brutality committed by the South Sudan military against women and girls including mass rape, torture and being burned alive. The government denied the reports and expelled the U.N. delegates responsible for the findings.
To date, despite the appointment of committees and investigations, no one has been held accountable for the mass atrocities and crimes against humanity being committed in South Sudan.