UNMISS intensifies peacebuilding in Jonglei as new report confirms community militias attacked civilians with support from military and political figures

15 Mar 2021

UNMISS intensifies peacebuilding in Jonglei as new report confirms community militias attacked civilians with support from military and political figures

Juba, 15 March 2021: The establishment of new temporary bases, intensified patrols, support for peacebuilding and investment in basic services is helping reduce violence in the Jonglei region of South Sudan after hundreds of people were killed and abducted in a wave of military-style attacks by community-based militias last year.

A new report by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) investigated brutal attacks by armed Dinka, Nuer and Murle groups in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA) between January and August 2020.

During the violence, thousands of fighters from Dinka, Nuer and Murle organized militias, dressed in a mix of military and civilian clothing, conducted planned and coordinated attacks on villages in broad daylight, indiscriminately killing people with machetes, knives, AK-47s and, on some occasions, rocket-propelled grenades.

These attacks had devastating consequences. More than 738 people were killed and 320 wounded, 686 women and children were abducted, and at least 39 women were raped.

“This kind of violence is driven by economic desperation after people lost their lives, homes and cattle during flooding as well as long delays in the peace process, including the failure to appoint local governors and administrators for many months,” said the Head of UNMISS, David Shearer. “This power vacuum opened opportunities for spoilers and national figures who exploited local tensions and fueled the conflict.”

At the time, UNMISS rapidly deployed peacekeepers to the affected areas and has since established numerous temporary bases to deter further violence. It is working with political and traditional leaders to promote reconciliation, facilitating peace conferences, and supporting the release of abducted women and children. A peacebuilding trust fund is also being used to improve basic services amongst the affected communities.

The report found that at least 50 traditional chiefs and spiritual leaders as well as military and political elites directly or indirectly supported the community-based militias involved in this violence. Members of Government and opposition forces also actively participated in the fighting according to their kinship or in a calculated move to reinforce political alliances and widen divisions that risk undermining the 2018 peace agreement. The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) failed to stop the violence and there has been no attempt to hold those responsible accountable.

In its response to the report, the Government of South Sudan said it condemned the alleged crimes committed in Greater Jonglei in the “strongest possible terms and wishes to see anyone involved brought to justice”. However, it disputed the involvement of SSPDF personnel in the attacks and the allegation that political and administrative elites supported the community-based militias. The Government also highlighted action taken to combat the violence, including the establishment of governance structures at the state and county levels.

In its recommendations, the report urges the Government to investigate all allegations of human rights violations and abuses and to prosecute those responsible. State-owned weapons should be kept in secure storage facilities to prevent theft and to ensure that members of Government forces cannot supply them to community-based militias. Immediate and strong steps should also be taken to facilitate the release and reunification of abducted women and children with their families.

Contact: UNMISS Chief of Communication and Information, Francesca Mold at mold2@un.org