Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons,
Mission to South Sudan
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, visited South Sudan from 6 to 15 November 2013. This was the Mandate’s first visit to the country after its independence in 2011 at a time where tensions were very high and indicative of the violence that broke out in December and unfolded into an armed conflict that not only worsened the dire situation of those who had been displaced before the crisis, but resulted in a large-scale displacement and protection crisis
The UN Special Rapporteur’s primary finding was the absence of adequate capacities and institutional preparedness to prevent and respond to internal displacement in the short-, medium-, and longer-term. As the primary responsibility to assist and protect internally displaced persons rests with authorities, necessary institutional capacity within the civilian government must be created for them to assume this wide responsibility. The current displacement situation also requires reconsidering necessary and institutional changes within the UN Mission in South Sudan as well as the humanitarian and human rights protection system in South Sudan. Most notably, utmost care must be given to preserve humanitarian space and ensure that humanitarian and protection principles are not further infringed.
Prevention must be a priority call now. In order to prevent a further increase of internal displacement and allow for dignified living conditions and a solution for the displaced, it is essential that all parties abstain from any act that results into arbitrary internal displacement and adhere to the Cessation of hostilities agreement of January 2014 and applicable rules of international law. The complexity and scale of the internal displacement situation also requires for a response based on a comprehensive policy framework and considering the different groups among the displaced as well as their immediate and longer-term needs to allow for a gradual process towards durable solutions for South Sudan’s IDPs.
I. Introduction 1–4 3
II. Context of internal displacement in South Sudan 5 4
A. Peace and security context 6–10 4
B. Political and socio-economic context 11–14 5
III. Internal displacement in South Sudan: Causes, dynamics and pattern 15–19 6
A. Conflict-related internal displacement 20–25 8
B. Displacement related to natural hazards 26–27 11
C. Internal displacement due to evictions 28 11
D. Long-term IDPs and Returnees of South Sudanese origin 29–32 12
E. Internal displacement in the borderlands 33 13
F. Displaced persons in the Abyei area 34 13
IV. National and international response to internal displacement 35–41 14
V. Conclusions and Recommendations 42 16
A. Recommendations to the Government of South Sudan and 43–49 16
other parties to the conflict as applicable
B. Recommendations to the international community 50–54 18
In accordance with the mandate contained in Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/23/8 (2013), and at the invitation of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, conducted an official visit to South Sudan from 6 to 15 November 2013. The Special Rapporteur undertook this visit in order to examine the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, including South Sudanese returning from the Sudan. The Special Rapporteur’s conclusions and recommendations are based on his observations and information made available to him during the visit. However, the Special Rapporteur also considers events that started in December 2013 that were unfolding at the time of his visit to ensure the continued relevance of his findings. His observations are informed by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles)1 and other international standards relevant to the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons.
The Special Rapporteur’s official visit took place eight years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2005 had brought an end to one of Africa’s longest lasting armed conflicts that had resulted in widespread internal displacement in Sudan. It was the first visit of the UN Mandate on the human rights of IDPs to South Sudan since its independence from the Sudan in July 2011. After the independence of South Sudan, the Special Rapporteur undertook a visit to Sudan in November 2012. These visits followed earlier ones to Sudan by previous UN Mandate holders on internally displaced persons in 20022, 20043 and 20054, prior to the independence of South Sudan.
The Special Rapporteur expresses his appreciation to the Government of South Sudan for its invitation, constructive engagement and willingness for ongoing cooperation with the mandate. The Special Rapporteur met with various Government interlocutors, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Interior, Under Secretary of Humanitarian Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, the Chairperson of the South Sudanese Return and Rehabilitation Committee, the Chairperson of the National Constitution Review Commission, the Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, the Chairperson of the South Sudan Land Commission, and the Chairperson of the South Sudan Commission for Refugee Affairs. During his travels to Jonglei state, Bor and Pibor, he met with the Acting Governor and other local authorities as well as with the SPLA Brigade Commander. Security and logistical constraints inhibited visits to other areas affected by internal displacement, including the three protocol areas. He wishes to express appreciation to the IDPs and South Sudanese returnees with whom he met and who shared their concerns and experiences with him.
The Special Rapporteur also met with the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and relevant units of the Mission in Juba and Bor, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, the UN Country Team and the Inter-Cluster Working Group, representatives of UN and other international organizations, the protection clusters in Juba and Bor, NGOs and civil society, as well as representatives of the donor community. The Special Rapporteur is grateful to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and UNMISS, which provided invaluable support during the preparations for as well as throughout the visit.
II. Context of internal displacement in South Sudan
The situation of internal displacement in South Sudan is complex, multi-faceted and layered, and therefore needs to be addressed and resolved in light of the country’s peace and security context and considering prevailing political, socio-economic, cultural and climatic vulnerabilities.
A. Peace and security context
The Republic of South Sudan was declared an independent sovereign state on 9 July 2011 following the referendum in January 2011 and reflects the culmination of the six year long lasting peace process initiated with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that sought to bring an end to the long conflict between the North and the South.
The world’s newest country at the time of drafting this report, had yet to recover from a history of decades of war. The armed conflict between the SPLM/A and the Government of Sudan lasted several decades, from 1956 to 1972, and resuming again in 19835. While the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972 conceded some degree of autonomy to Southern Sudan, the fragile stability ushered by it barely allowed for recovery and stabilization as armed conflict resumed in 1983 when autonomy concessions granted to Southern Sudan were unilaterally withdrawn. The CPA formally ended this conflict in 2005, when a power-sharing government – the Government of National Unity – as well as an autonomous Government of Southern Sudan was formed in Khartoum and Juba respectively. Yet, peace remained fragile throughout the transition period that ended with the referendum in 2011.
The conclusion of the nine post-referendum agreements between Sudan and South Sudan in 20126, marked an important step towards addressing outstanding CPA and post-secession issues between the two countries. Brokered peace nonetheless, high tensions within South Sudan, in the disputed area of Abyei, as well as conflicts in the protocol areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile as well as along other borders continue to undermine the stability of South Sudan.
Following independence, the focus on the relations between Sudan and South Sudan had become more inward looking. This made internal armed conflict, inter-communal and ethnic violence, human rights abuses, or political instability as causes of internal displacement more visible, as demonstrated by the complex conflict in Jonglei state. While inter-communal violence in Jonglei state is recurrent, the dimensions and the extent of the politicized violence between the Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer, and the Murle reached heights in early 2012. Disarmament efforts by the SPLA further increased tensions and animosity between these population groups as the SPLA were perceived to be biased, selective, and abusive. David Yau Yau’s rebellion and the respective counter-insurgency operation by the SPLA in Jonglei state brought another and significant layer of violence to the fragile area and reports over counter insurgency abuses against civilians created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
At the time of the Special Rapporteur’s visit, political tensions in the Government and the SPLA were already high following the dismissal of the former Vice President and the entire Cabinet in July 2013. The end of the rainy season in November brought about the apprehension that armed conflict between the SPLA and David Yau Yau’s armed group would resume in Jonglei. There were significant ethnic indicators in the patterns of flight. The Dinka Bor were fleeing into Uganda, the Lou Nuer into Ethiopia, and the Murle into the informal settlements in and around Juba and remote rural areas, alleging that they were being targeted, ‘ethnically cleansed’ and marginalized. The violence that broke out in Juba in December 2013 over an alleged military coup or mutiny was therefore indicated and foreseeable. Its fast spread7 and increasing political ethnisization brought to the fore the inherent fragmentation of the country’s political movement and army and former liberation movement and the depth of the governance crisis in South Sudan. The violence in its intensity, scale and persistence today amounts to a non-international armed conflict8. Though simplistically portrayed as a two party conflict, its dynamics are fluid, fragmented and complex going beyond a binary conflict. The conflict has multiple impacts on all communities and reflects a deep governance crisis reminiscent of a political chasm on state building in South Sudan, and deeply rooted social and economic grievances.
B. Political and socio-economic context
South Sudan is confronted with challenging tasks and ever competing priorities as part of its state building process. A crucial task not accomplished is the transformation of the SPLM/A from a liberation movement into an effective government with a functional capacity and public service delivery. It is clear that the SPLM/A was itself a coalition of political and military forces that were allied to the cause of Southern Sudan during the armed conflict and through the CPA transition from 2005 until independence in 2011, but suffered from a lack political cohesion and professional integrated military as an armed force. Against this background, the dismissal of the entire Cabinet and the Vice President in July 2013 laid bare existing political and military fissures in the SPLM/A political, governance, and military structures, leading to high political instability on the part of the young Government, furthered the political and military divide along ethnic lines and resulted in an endemic violent conflict that broke out within the SPLA in December 2013. The peace negotiations that started on 5 February 2014 in Addis Ababa facilitated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are urged to succeed and create hope for a resolution for the political and governance crisis in addition to the cessation of hostilities agreement concluded on 23 January 2014.
Efforts for national cohesion, reconciliation and accountability have been insufficient and opened fertile ground for tensions and violence along ethnic lines. The high ethnic diversity in South Sudan calls for the establishment of an effective civilian government with adequate and fair representation of all ethnic groups in public affairs at the national and local levels, an adequate diversified representation in state security bodies, such as the army or the police force, a transparent and participatory constitutional process, equal and non-discriminatory access to social services and employment irrespective of ethnic origins, transparent planning for elections and abstinence from one-sided military or other state security interventions as essential measures to improve national cohesion in South Sudan. The transformation of the SPLA from a liberation movement into a vetted professional armed force of the state, with effective command-control structures and military discipline, is also essential and requires capacity building, training and re-structuring. Of the same is required for the transformation of the police into a trained and accountable police service.
The State of South Sudan established itself on the basis of the exercise of the right to self-determination by the people of South Sudan and therefore on the fundament of human and peoples’ rights. These rights are vital in building national cohesion and play an essential role in the statebuilding process as they reflect shared values of the people of South Sudan, the State, the region and the world as reflected in the UN Charter 1945 and the Constitutive Act of the African Union 2000. Justice and equity are primary values supported by human rights and fundaments of national cohesion and statebuilding. While South Sudan is signatory to the major UN human rights treaties as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1985, ratification and implementation of these instruments are vital to contribute to the stability of the country and the well-being of South Sudanese people.
South Sudan’s economic oil dependence is a source of vulnerability as economic diversification is largely subsistence agriculture and pastoralism. The stop of oil production in 2012 following political and economic disagreement with Sudan significantly impacted the country’s economy. Over 50% of South Sudan’s 8.26 million people live below the poverty line9. With 83%, the South Sudanese being a predominantly rural population, out of which 78% depend on crop farming and animal husbandry as their primary source of income generation10, rural-based livelihoods are largely subsistent and therefore often vulnerable to climatic shocks. Its climatic variability is characterized by a high rainfall variability that causes annual and significant flooding in large parts of the country from April/May to October/November. Crop destruction and animal loss during rainy seasons is common and impacts on rural livelihoods. The rainy season provides a particularly difficult operational environment, where national and international actors alike face serious access constraints in the absence of logistical riverine support. Food insecurity is common and widespread during the rainy season and it is urgent that national and international actors address it as a humanitarian concern, including by pre-stocking food items during the dry season in preparedness for the impassable rainy season, but also through development activities such as diversification of crops and more broadly by diversification of subsistence livelihoods.
III. Internal displacement in South Sudan: Causes, dynamics and pattern
Internal displacement in South Sudan is a complex crisis affecting the whole country also owing to a long displacement history. Outstanding resolution of disputes with Sudan, insecurity in neighbouring states, and politicized ethnic violence and armed conflicts within South Sudan, provide a fragile peace and security environment – internally and regionally. Indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population and lack of accountability for human rights violations add to an environment conducive to internal displacement11. Political instability, the absence of a transparent and inclusive process towards national cohesion, as well as South Sudan’s climatic vulnerabilities contribute to internal displacement and provide significant obstacles to its resolution. The country’s lack of economic diversity and in particular the large percentage of South Sudanese with subsistence livelihoods in the pastoral and agricultural sector render them vulnerable to displacement.
In such a complex displacement environment, the identification of who an IDP is, can be difficult and disagreement over notions and concepts can undermine coordinated planning and response. The definition of IDPs in the Guiding Principles provides a common understanding: Internally displaced persons are “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”12. This is a descriptive notion of an IDP and does not intend or suggest creating a legal or administrative status for such persons.
The identification of who an IDP is, is difficult in South Sudan, for the following reasons:
(a) A vast variety of causes of displacement are prevalent in South Sudan. Often, displacement cannot be allocated to one single cause, but must be considered multi-causal where causes overlap or have increased the negative impact on the displaced communities. Some of the causes are also recurrent, resulting into cycles of displacement often of the same communities. This creates complex layers of multiple displacements and further increases prevailing vulnerabilities.
(b) Internal displacement occurs not only as a reaction to such causes, but also pre-emptively, in particular in the context of the December 2013 violence. The IDP population itself is highly diverse and includes women, men and children, persons with disabilities, the wounded and sick, the elderly and youth. Some of the IDPs have lived in long-term protracted displacement, while others are newly displaced or for shorter periods. Pastoralists constitute a major group among the internally displaced population. In Jonglei, as the fighting between the SPLA and the group of David Yau Yau, dominated primarily over urban strongholds, internal displacement is predominantly rural as people fled into the bushes. However, urban displacement is a reality too, in Juba and elsewhere in the country especially as a dynamic of the conflict that broke out in December 2013. Not all IDPs are visible or accessible; some even chose to remain in hiding out of fear of further exposure to violence or persecution.
In the absence of a baseline, data on internal displacement is limited to newly displaced due to conflict and violence, who have been registered and assisted. Within these limitations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Sudan reported a total of 168’000 IDPs for 2012, and approximately 188’000 by 30 November of the year 201313. The IDP numbers spiked in December 2013 and OCHA reported 194’000 displaced between 15 December and the end of 201314. These figures reflect minimums only. Almost 330’000 persons were in need of assistance due to flooding, including those displaced15. Gaps in data are primarily due to access restrictions, but is further complicated by the wide absence of documentation. The lack of a baseline compounded by a difficult terrain as well as an overall very mobile population makes movement tracking very difficult, which would be necessary for more accurate data. Coordinated data collection and management has remained an important challenge in the response to the current conflict and the lack thereof potentially undermines forward looking and proactive humanitarian planning.
This context requires a pragmatic approach to understand who IDPs in South Sudan are and formulate adequate policy and operational responses. Contrary to what the notion suggests, IDPs in South Sudan are not a homogenous group but highly diverse and includes those displaced by armed conflict, inter-communal and ethnic violence, human rights violations or cross-border incursions (section A); or by natural disasters (section B); IDPs due to evictions (section C); or long-term IDPs and returnees of South Sudanese origin (section D). Special considerations must be given to communities inhabiting borderlands (section E) as well as those displaced in or from the disputed Abyei area (section F).
A. Conflict-related internal displacement
Armed conflict is the main driver of internal displacement in South Sudan and is related to inter-communal, politically ethnicized violence, human rights violations, and cross-border incursions. Cattle raids and other inter-communal violence flare up regularly across the country and in particular during the dry seasons when pastoral migration takes place. The nature of cattle raiding has also changed and today has little to do with traditional or cultural forms of raiding. While cultural habits or competition over resources continue to have its toll, inter-communal violence is essentially about political domination and power relations at local levels. Traditional dispute settlement mechanisms barely function anymore and rangeland management systems are equally undermined by the breakdown of social cohesion and generational structures in communities largely attributable to the militarization of communities during the civil wars16. The wide proliferation of small arms and weaponry as well as an increased ethnisization of land are also significant contributors to such violence. It is clear that inter-communal violence has resulted in internal displacement in various states of South Sudan and was a recurrent phenomenon in Warrap, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states in 2012 and 2013.
In Jonglei state, inter-communal violence between Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer and the Murle communities have resulted in large-scale repeated internal displacement. However, restrictions to humanitarian access have made it difficult to assess the real scale. The conflict between the group of David Yau Yau (DYY)17, largely consisting of Murle youth, and the SPLA has added to the complexity and scale of internal displacement as civilians fled to rural areas as the counter-insurgency operations were primarily fought over urban strongholds, such as Boma, Likuangole, Gumuruk, Manyabol, Maruwa Hills or Pibor, leaving these towns almost deserted18. Targeted use of force against, and indiscriminate attacks impacting on civilians19, rape20, lootings, destruction of homes and other property21, have been a constant feature of this conflict and resulted in widespread arbitrary displacement prohibited in international law22. The environment of fear created by these atrocities also resulted in preemptive displacement and remains a major obstacle to returns and the re-establishment of normality for IDPs. The generalized affiliation of the Murle with the DYY insurgency brought an ethnic dimension to this conflict and victimized the Murle. And despite a formal truce between the DYY Group and the SPLA, peace remains fragile. At the time of his visit, the Special Rapporteur noted that Pibor town appeared to be a SPLA military garrison, predominantly composed of Dinka and Nuer, with hardly any civilians inside. As the provision of humanitarian assistance outside Pibor town was hampered by access restrictions, this situation created a dilemma between the humanitarian imperative and the principle of do no harm. Among the recipients of humanitarian aid therefore are largely women and children, as Murle men were unable to access distribution points within Pibor town due to the risk of affiliation with DYY. This separation of women and children increased their exposure to violence, abductions and harmful traditional practices. The militarization of the communities, the readily available small arms and weapons and the levels of inter-communal violence in Jonglei state prompted the Government’s disarmament efforts. However, the disarmament campaign “Operation Restore Peace” escalated in violence and was perceived as one-sided further increasing inter-communal tensions. Human rights violations reportedly were committed during disarmament campaigns adding to the widespread internal displacement in Pibor County. While a few SPLA soldiers have been court marshalled over human rights violations and despite condemning rhetoric by President Salva Kiir23, an overall and transparent investigation and establishment of effective accountability for acts committed against civilians remains outstanding, further deepening the extent of mistrust in the SPLA.
The armed conflict that unfolded in December 2013 has become increasingly entrenched along ethnic lines resulting in a large-scale displacement and protection crisis24, with severe regional impacts due to refugee influxes into neighbouring countries. Violence against civilians, rape and sexual violence against women, looting, or the destruction of property, mark the nature of the conflict25 and populations reportedly believe they are targeted on account of their ethnic origin. 75’643 sought refuge within UNMISS premises in Juba, Bor, Bentiu, Pariang, Rumbek, Malakal, Melut26, and an estimated 716’500 became displaced elsewhere in the country27. The cessation of hostilities agreement of 23 January 2014 nonetheless violence undermines the agreement. All parties to the conflict are called upon to comply with international law28, refrain from attacking civilians and exercise utmost constrain in their belligerent activities in keeping with the principle of distinction between civilians and military targets in order to minimize the impact on the civilian population, including the IDPs.
Safety and security for IDPs and other civilians during flight as well as in places of refuge is a serious concern. By virtue of state responsibility, national authorities have the primary duty responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction29. Attempts by armed forces and Government officials and other armed groups to force their entry into UN protected areas for IDPs in Bor and the attack in Bentiu killing a significant number of IDPs are cause for alarm. It needs to be recalled that the Government is obliged to refrain from such acts30. Killings, arrests, abductions, rape and harassment impede safe passage of civilians in flight or on return and undermine their freedom of movement, in particular their right to seek safety31. IDPs seeking refuge outside UN premises are often difficult to reach due to logistical and security constraints to humanitarian access, looting of humanitarian convoys and compounds and lack of safety of humanitarian personnel. IDPs are often also unable to reach assistance and distribution points due to safety concerns. Even within UN bases, chronic needs for improved sanitation, shelter and health remain to be addressed. Family separations and child protection issues have arisen due to flight, and family reunification and tracing remains a critical, yet difficult activity in the current environment of insecurity. Reports over the recruitment of children, youth and adults, in formal military forces as well as youth militia, is of significant concern32.
IDPs who sought safety within UNMISS’ protected areas, face a congested and overcrowded situation prone to politicized ethnic tensions and health hazards. The bases in Juba have become the refuge for 43’300 IDPs33 and have difficulty to absorb new arrivals. While decongestion is a relevant, it is important that IDPs are not induced or pressured to leave UNMISS bases, but are allowed to voluntarily decide to do so. Decongestion should be based on a strategy embedded in a forward looking comprehensive approach to internal displacement. UNMISS may need to negotiate additional or alternative land in order to execute its mandate to protect civilians in line with the Security Council Mandate, the UNMISS Protection of Civilian Strategy and international standards34. Physical protection in the sites as well as in the vicinity must remain a priority. Recent violent events, including the attack in Bentiu, and firing into sites, rape and abductions just outside the UN base as well as the discovery of arms within the protected areas are of great concern. Commending the efforts to fortify the protected areas, perimeter security must be further strengthened with regular patrols. To ensure security within the site, civilian and community-based policing is required. Protective areas for civilians need to be fully disarmed, especially as tensions among IDPs are high and the risk of conflict within those areas exists. Due to the capacity constraints of UNMISS to address the humanitarian needs, humanitarian actors have started to assist IDPs despite the military premise on which the protective areas are located. Humanitarian independence and humanitarian principles, however, are also important to maintain in light of the conflict dynamics, the integrated mandate of UNMISS and its relationship to the Government.
With regard to IDPs outside UN premises, the Special Rapporteur cautions against the establishment of camps35, which are an easy target, difficult secure, to manage and maintain, especially in light of the prevailing ethnic tensions, and such camps often become a significant impediment to durable solutions. Rather, communities in areas hosting IDPs should be factored in the planning of the response to ensure their absorption and hosting capacity. Full scale resumption of these POC activities outside UN bases must be a priority to increase physical safety of IDPs outside the bases as well as to secure or even pacify areas to which IDPs may consider to return to.