Despite renewed political commitment, staggering levels of violence continued across South Sudan for the second successive year, UN experts note


19 February 2021

JUBA/GENEVA (19 February 2021) The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has found that ten years after independence, staggering levels of violence continue and threaten to spiral out of control across several regions in the country.

The Commission’s latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva published today is accompanied by a 47-page conference room paper, and records an intensification in attacks against the civilian population by armed groups and militias organised and mobilised along ethnic lines, often with the support of armed State and opposition forces. The period between February and November 2020 saw violent conflict between allied Dinka and Nuer militias and Murle pastoralist militias in central and southern Jonglei State and Greater Pibor Administrative Area, resulting in massive violations against civilians including the killing and displacement of hundreds.

“The scope and scale of violence we are documenting far exceeds the violence between 2013 and 2019,” said Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka. “The Commission has documented some of the most brutal attacks carried out over the past seven years, particularly in Central Equatoria, Warrap, Jonglei, and Greater Pibor Administrative Area which have seen an escalation in conflict, resulting in homes being systematically and deliberately torched, civilians are forced to flee, many are killed, and women and girls are abducted, raped, gang-raped, and sexually enslaved, and in some instances are forcibly married. Women and girls have been targeted by all sides, while abducted boys were forced to fight, and in some instances forcibly assimilated into rival groups with their identities completely erased. The mobilisation of tens of thousands of fighters armed with sophisticated weapons is well coordinated and highly militarised and certainly not a coincidence,” she added.

“The scale of the armed violence and the newer weapons used by local groups suggest either the involvement of State forces or external actors,” said Commissioner Andrew Clapham. “Many of these acts are human rights violations and may also amount to crimes under international law included in the draft statute of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. There is currently almost no accountability in South Sudan for such violations. We therefore urge the Government to sign without further delay the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union which establishes the Court,” he noted.

While the Revitalised Peace Agreement has led to a lull in hostilities at a national level, this has had little or no impact at the localized level. The armed conflict in Central Equatoria that began in November 2018 between the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, local militias, and the National Salvation Front – a non-signatory to the Revitalised Peace Agreement – continues with grave consequences for civilians. The Report finds that the motivation for these clashes include the competition for power and territory, access to resources, lucrative gold mines, illegal taxation, and funds derived from extortion. In addition, the Report highlights retaliation against persons suspected or accused of supporting opposing sides.

Since 2011, South Sudan has also witnessed a massive clampdown by the Government on fundamental freedoms, violating guarantees of freedom of speech, expression, peaceful assembly, and association, the Report notes. “The Government’s pervasive surveillance of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders, primarily through the National Security Service coupled with the deliberate and systematic targeting of civil society organizations, media houses, and universities countrywide, instills fear of being infiltrated, and fuels distrust amongst colleagues,” said Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka.

With more than 75 per cent of the country engulfed in brutal violence at the local level, the Commission’s Conference Room Paper further provides a framework for the prevention of atrocity crimes and the risk of the deadly national conflict spreading outside of Central Equatoria.

More than two years since the signing of the Revitalised Peace Agreement and the establishment of the Revitalised Government in February 2020, the Commission’s Reports have documented how South Sudan has made little concrete progress in establishing any of the transitional justice mechanisms provided for in Chapter V of the Agreement to address accountability for conflict-related violations. The Commission is pleased that its dialogue with the Government on implementation of Chapter V has had an impact and welcomes the recent decision by the South Sudanese Government on Friday, 29 January 2021 to proceed with the processes of establishing the Hybrid Court, and other transitional justice mechanisms to address violations committed during the conflict. The Commission hopes that the benchmarks it provided to the Government on the implementation of the commitments under Chapter V will assist in the developing of an inclusive, participatory, trust-building process in which all South Sudanese have a stake. 

“The lack of accountability for historical grievances and the general state of lawlessness are fuelling impunity for gross human rights violations in South Sudan. If not addressed, this may leave deep-seated ethnic and other divisions, worsen gender-based discrimination, and exacerbate the violence in the country,” said Commissioner Barney Afako. “We strongly urge the Government, with support from regional and international partners, to act swiftly to fully implement the Revitalised Peace Agreement and establish vital governance and security institutions to implement accountability and transitional justice mechanisms. To achieve healing and ensure sustainable peace, South Sudan desperately needs a concerted nation-building project under a leadership committed to managing ethnic and other diversity. The re-establishment of State and local government authority is a critical first step in this direction,” he added.

In line with its mandate to clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, the Commission continues to build dossiers on suspected perpetrators and to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and other transitional justice mechanisms. The Commission has also noted that the evidence it has collected and dossiers it has prepared can also be used in other accountability processes notably in other States which may find suspected perpetrators in their jurisdiction. In the last year, the Commission has identified 17 additional alleged perpetrators whose names, and accompanying materials, will be presented in a confidential dossier to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. This information will be made available, should certain conditions be fulfilled, to support future prosecutions or other measures taken to bring about accountability.


The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 and extended in March 2017, and for further years in March 2018, March 2019, and June 2020, with a mandate to determine and report the facts and circumstances of, collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability. 

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