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South Sudan commemorated its tenth anniversary as an independent state in early July 2021. The euphoria and optimism that accompanied South Sudan’s independence was soon shattered and the country descended into a devastating five-year civil war. Ongoing localised violence, and slow progress in implementing a 2018 peace agreement, has raised fears of renewed conflict at a national level. The UK says the present humanitarian crisis is “largely man-made and largely preventable.”

An end to the civil war

In September 2018 the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan was signed in Addis Ababa by President Salva Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar, Kiir’s former deputy President. Machar was formally sworn in as First Vice President and a transitional government was formed in February 2020. Kiir leads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) while Machar leads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO).

Slow progress in implementing the peace deal

However, progress in implementing the Revitalised Agreement remains slow. The UK has identified the “absence of political will” as one of the reasons for the slow implementation.

In February 2021, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, said that “persistent political grandstanding, disagreement, suspicion and distrust among the main parties… resulted in undue delays” in achieving key milestones.

In July the chair of the Commission warned considerable work remains to ensure South Sudan “does not slide back into violent national conflict.”

Ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis

The Commission has also reported an intensification of attacks on civilians, documenting “some of the most brutal attacks carried out over the past seven years.” The report notes sexual and gender-based violence has “persistently been a hallmark of the conflict in South Sudan.” The UK Government has said it intends to continue to press the South Sudan Government to tackle sexual and gender-based violence.

8.3 million people are identified as needing humanitarian aid by UN OCHA (the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). The World Food Programme says food insecurity has reached the most extreme levels since independence and estimates over 100,000 people are on the very edge of famine.

Future outlook

The leadership of Kiir and Machar, and the personal divisions between them, have been identified by some as a contributing factor to the slow implementation of the Reconciliation Agreement.

The UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan report hearing from multiple senior interlocutors that the two men “have become obstacles to democracy, economic development and human progress… and should step down.

The UN Secretary General has called on leaders to “reinvigorate all efforts to achieve peace and stability” and implement the key outstanding provisions of the Revitalised Agreement.

The UK, alongside its Troika partners of Norway and the US, similarly urged the signatories “to accept accountability for their commitments and go much further, much faster.

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