On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was born, ending more than five decades and two civil wars fought between the peoples of southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum. Southerners—mostly Christian and animist—fought against rule by the north and the imposition of Arabic language and culture.
The wars claimed two million lives and continued until 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and then-leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) John Garang. Brokered by the United States, whose government and grassroots advocacy community had long supported southern independence, the CPA included a provision that gave citizens of South Sudan the opportunity to vote whether to remain part of Sudan or to break off and become an independent country.
Some feared that the referendum or full separation from Sudan would serve as a spark to reignite violence between the north and the south. Despite the fears, and with support from the international community, a peaceful referendum was held in January 2011, and the citizens of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence.
Ethnic conflict & war
Within South Sudan, intercommunal violence continues to be widespread due to a range of issues including highly-ethnicized politics, the ready availability of weapons, the proliferation of armed groups, corruption, and competition for limited economic opportunities.
A political crisis that began in December 2013 has erupted into a large-scale civil conflict that has taken on an ethnic cast, as Dinka militias and supporters of the president, Salva Kiir, battle Nuer forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar for control of key cities and towns. Citizens are being targeted for murder, rape, assault, and torture on the basis of their ethnic identity.
According to the United Nations, tens of thousands have been killed and more than three million civilians have been displaced as of December 2016, including more than 224,000 who have fled to protection of civilian sites on six UN bases around the country. This is the first time that the UN, in accordance with its Human Rights Up Front initiative, has opened its peacekeeping bases to civilians fleeing violence. The conflict has been characterized by direct attacks against civilians, including humanitarian personnel.
A power-sharing agreement was brokered in August 2015 by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), with support from the United States and other members of the international community. Shortly after a Transitional Government of National Unity was formed, renewed clashes between the army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA/IO) erupted in the capital Juba in July 2016, prompting Riek Machar to flee the country and fighting to spread to areas previously unaffected by the war.
On the brink of genocide
Since the renewed violence in July 2016, there has been an alarming increase in hate speech and inciteful rhetoric, which seems to pit the majority Dinka ethnic group against non-Dinka tribes. When combined with the proliferation of ethnic militia and increased ease of troop movements during the dry season, international policymakers fear there could be more deadly clashes in the coming months. In November 2016, the UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, warned of the risk of “all out ethnic war” with the potential to escalate into genocide.