On December 15, 2013, fighting erupted between soldiers at the presidential guard headquarters in Juba, after months of escalating political tensions related to a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and then Vice President Riek Machar. The crisis, although political in origin, was quickly marked by targeted killings along ethnic lines. In Juba, thousands of Nuer, the ethnic group of Machar, were killed in the first week of the conflict alone. Almost immediately, tens of thousands of civilians converged on UN bases and took up shelter. Since then, the situation has escalated into a civil war between, on the one hand, President Kiir’s government and military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and, on the other hand, the SPLA-In-Opposition (SPLA-IO), led by Machar. By December 2015, over 190,000 people were documented as sheltering in six protection of civilians (POC) sites on UN Peacekeeping bases. Overall, 2.5 million people have been displaced, including 900,000 that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Two ceasefire agreements were made in 2014 to halt the ongoing fighting, ensure that humanitarian aid was accessible for displaced populations, and establish a transitional government. On August 26, 2015, Kiir signed a peace agreement to end the 20-month conflict with the opposition forces. However, hostilities continued, with forces accused of horrific atrocities against the country’s civilian population. In February 2016, violence broke out between Dinka and Shilluk communities in the UNMISS POC site in Malakal, causing at least 30 deaths and extensive damage to the site. By March 2016, upwards of 25 percent of the country’s population was in urgent need of food, while allegations of censorship and looting were levied against the government.
Riek Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 to be officially sworn in as Kiir’s First Vice President, marking the completion of a key component of the August peace agreement. Nevertheless, fighting continues in some parts of the country, and key parts of the peace agreement have yet to be implemented.
The security situation deteriorated significantly in early July 2016, as ethnic tensions sparked the mass killing and displacement of civilians in Wau. Members of the Dinka tribe attacked locals, resulting in dozens dead and over 100,000 fleeing. Days later, intense fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, between rival factions loyal to Kiir and Machar. Machar fled Juba on July 11 following a deadly clash at the presidential palace. On July 23, in a move that deepened political tensions, Taban Deng Gai was formally sworn in as his successor.