The world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has once again descended into a rash of fresh fighting that is said to have claimed the lives of more than 100 civilians, according to the United Nations.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said Wednesday that civilians had been “deliberately and brutally targeted” in Central Equatoria, marking a severe deterioration since a feeble peace agreement was signed between warring factions in September.
At least 104 individuals have been killed in attacks, the UN noted in its latest human rights report, also underscoring that around the same number of women and girls had been raped or endured sexual violence between September and April alone. Moreover, the bloody uptick has prompted some 80,000 to flee – almost 60,000 are now displaced within the war-torn country while a further 20,000 have crossed into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The U.N. pins the blame on government forces and fighters aligned with rebel groups – who did not formally sign on to September’s agreement – for the violent outbreak in an attempt to take control of Central Equatoria territory. In particular, the report identifies government forces as having punished those accused of rebel alliances with “sexual violence as well as looting and destroying homes, churches, schools and health centers.”
However, the UN also pointed out that compared to the peak of violence in times past, “overall, there has been a significant decrease in conflict-related violations and abuses across the country following the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018,” with Central Equatoria has been an exception to this trend.
The chaos of today’s South Sudan stands in stark contrast to the jubilation following a 2011 vote for independence, which came after some five decades of brutal conflict with the north - at an estimated cost of two million lives.
But within two years of independence, President Salva Kiir – an ethnic Dinka – accused his first vice president, Rick Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of plotting a coup attempt. Tensions escalated. And by the end of 2013, the world’s newest nation was enmeshed in its own horrific civil war.
Since December 2013, South Sudan has been torn apart by bloodshed that has displaced more than one-third of the country’s 12 million population and left more than 400,000 people dead. Over half the country is battling post-traumatic stress disorder, with little in the way of mental health care.