South Sudan

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South Sudan 2023

The rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement were repressed. Journalists, activists, critics and political opposition members faced arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and other ill-treatment. A critic of the government was forcibly returned from Kenya and held in prolonged detention by the National Security Service. Government forces and armed groups committed serious human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial executions, unlawful killings, conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, and the recruitment and use of children. A UN human rights body highlighted the continuing impunity enjoyed by senior officials responsible for serious human rights violations. Draft bills relating to past crimes and reparation were approved by the Council of Ministers. The humanitarian situation remained dire, and OCHA estimated that about 76% of the population needed humanitarian assistance during the year. Millions faced high levels of food insecurity. Health services were mainly provided by international donors. There were 2 million internally displaced people, and nearly 2.23 million people had sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Climate change-induced events, like floods and drought, left about 2 million people without food or agricultural land.


In April, the UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS).

In May, the UN Security Council extended the arms embargo imposed on South Sudan for another year until 30 May 2024.

Preparations for South Sudan’s first elections in December 2024 continued, albeit with slow progress in completing key prerequisites outlined in the 2018 peace agreement for holding elections. On 4 July, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement endorsed President Salva Kiir as its flag-bearer during the elections.

The UN said that at least 20 people died when inter-ethnic fighting broke out in June in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, Upper Nile State. Fighting also broke out in Pochalla County in the Pibor Administrative Area, resulting in at least 87 deaths.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

Between 3 and 4 January, seven South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation journalists were arbitrarily detained at the National Security Service (NSS) detention facility in the capital Juba. Joval Tombe, Joseph Oliver, Mustafa Osman, Victor Lado, Cherbek Ruben, Jacob Benjamin and John Garang were arrested in relation to a leaked video that circulated on social media and allegedly showed President Salva Kiir urinating on himself during an official ceremony. They were all released without charge between 19 January and 18 March. John Garang, who was held until 18 March, appeared to have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

During a press conference in April, information minister and government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth threatened to arrest journalists working for the UNMISS-operated Radio Miraya, ostensibly for defying his orders for media houses to register with the media authority. In October, he admitted that the government censors the media and removes articles deemed to incite hatred.

In May, political reporter Woja Emmanuel announced on his social media accounts that he had left the profession of journalism because of fears for his life. According to a CHRSS report of 5 October, his decision could be attributed to the harassment of journalists by the authorities and resulting trauma.

On 18 September, the NSS disrupted and shut down a gathering in Juba organized by the South Sudan Opposition Alliance to welcome its secretary general, Lam Akol, back to South Sudan after spending years abroad.

Freedom of movement

On 19 April, Kuel Aguer Kuel, former political detainee and member of the People’s Coalition for Civic Action, was prevented from leaving the country by officials at Juba International Airport over what they called his “lack of authorization to travel”. His passport was confiscated at the airport, apparently on orders from the president’s office. He had intended to travel to India for medical treatment.

On 18 September, the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) publicly announced that the authorities did not allow its leader and first vice-president Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon to travel outside Juba.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The government had still not amended the 2014 National Security Services Act, despite being obliged under the 2015 and 2018 peace agreements to do so. The act granted NSS officers police-like powers of arrest and detention, in violation of the NSS’s constitutional mandate to gather intelligence.

On 4 February, South Sudanese citizen and government critic Morris Mabior Awikjok Bak was arbitrarily arrested in Nairobi by Kenyan security forces, and forcibly returned to Juba the following day. At the end of the year, he remained at an NSS detention facility known as the Blue House, in Juba, where he was repeatedly interrogated. He was not allowed to see a lawyer, and was not brought before a court. In September, it was evident that his health was deteriorating, but he was not allowed to see a doctor or given any medication.

On 11 September, the SPLM-IO political bureau met in Juba and expressed concern over the continued arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances of its members.

Extrajudicial executions

The UN said it documented 25 extrajudicial executions which took place between January and November. Of these, 17 people, including one woman, were executed in Warrap State and eight in Lakes State. According to the UN, the executions were allegedly committed by members of the South Sudan security apparatus.

Sexual and gender-based violence

A CHRSS report published in April highlighted the continuing cycles of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence in parts of the country. Violations were mostly perpetrated by members of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), armed youth groups affiliated to the government, opposition forces, and other armed elements.

Children’s rights

According to the 2023 UN Secretary-General’s reports on the situation in South Sudan, grave violations against 181 children (154 boys and 27 girls) were committed between June and November, including the recruitment and use of 103 children (102 boys and one girl); the killing of 24 boys and girls, and the maiming of four boys and girls; and the rape of one girl. The violations were carried out by both government forces and armed groups.


The April CHRSS report highlighted the failure of the national leadership to address entrenched impunity, and described how senior public and military officials suspected of being responsible for human rights violations remained in post, and were even rewarded with promotion or other appointments, thus emboldening them and others to commit further human rights crimes. The report identified three senior officials who it said should be held accountable for serious human rights violations.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

A survivor of conflict-related sexual violence conveyed her message to the UN Human Rights Council during its March session, urging that the council ensure victims get justice for crimes committed against them in South Sudan.

Between 15 and 17 May, the government convened the Conference on Transitional Justice Mechanisms in Juba. Its objectives included reviewing progress in the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms under the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan; learning from regional experiences; and building consensus on the content and enactment of draft bills to establish the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH) and the Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA). In November, the CTRH and CRA bills were approved by the Council of Ministers, and were due to be tabled for debate in parliament before going to the president for his assent to their becoming law.

Denial of humanitarian access

South Sudan continued to be the deadliest place in the world for aid workers, with at least 25 of them killed, according to OCHA. On 23 September, two UNICEF-contracted trucks were attacked while returning to Juba after delivering crucial aid supplies to children and their families in Yei County, Central Equatoria State. Two of the drivers were killed and another injured.

OCHA estimated that 76% of the population – 9.4 million, including 4.9 million children – needed humanitarian assistance and protection services during 2023. The outbreak of fighting in Sudan in April exacerbated the already severe humanitarian situation, after 456,974 people fled the country to seek refuge in South Sudan by the end of the year (see below, Right to food); 80% of those fleeing were returning South Sudanese nationals. By the end of the year, the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan 2023 had received only 53% of the requested USD 1.7 billion needed to provide millions of people with life-saving assistance and protection services.

Right to food

In December, OCHA said that 5.83 million people (46% of the population) were experiencing high levels of food insecurity. An estimated 35,000 people, including 6,000 in the counties of Duk and Nyirol, Jonglei State; 15,000 in Rubkona County, Unity State; and around 14,000 South Sudanese returnees who fled the ongoing conflict in Sudan, faced catastrophic hunger levels. Shortfalls in funding for the UN’s humanitarian project limited resources, meaning that emergency food assistance had to be prioritized for 3.2 million people experiencing the highest levels of food insecurity.

Right to health

Health services were mainly provided by international donors.

The Ministry of Health confirmed measles outbreaks in Upper Nile State on 6 June, and in Central Equatoria and Warrap states on 20 July. Following the outbreak, the ministry and its partners scaled up their response through mobile clinic services for consultations, immunization, patient referrals and delivery of medical emergency kits.

On 16 June, according to the UN, over 150 cases of an unidentified disease were reported – causing 23 deaths – in Darjo Primary Health Care Unit in Longochuk County, Upper Nile State.

Internally displaced people’s, refugees’ and migrants’ rights

South Sudan had the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with nearly 2.23 million people living as refugees in neighbouring countries, the majority in Uganda; and 2 million people were internally displaced.

On 8 October, the government postponed a visit to the country by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, scheduled for 9 to 20 October. During her visit, the Special Rapporteur had intended to gather first-hand information on the plight of internally displaced people; to engage with the government and other interlocutors on the prevention, and root causes, of internal displacement; and to look at the needs and human rights of the displaced, and explore lasting solutions. The government had not proposed new dates for her visit by the end of the year.

Right to a healthy environment

South Sudan continued to face climate change-induced risks, including floods and drought. It experienced its fourth consecutive year of floods, which covered two-thirds of the country, and left millions without food or agricultural land, especially in Unity and Jonglei states. The flooding damaged shelters and schools, destroyed crops and household goods, reduced access to safe water and hindered humanitarian access.

Speaking at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi in September, the president said that climate change had led to at least 2 million people in South Sudan losing their livelihoods.