The state of South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Since then, legacies of pre-indendence violence have led this fragile state down a path of coups and civil war, beginning in 2013 and ending in 2018. Despite the negotiated end of civil war in 2018 and ambitious transitional justice agenda, South Sudan remains gripped by fragility and ensnared in ethnic divisions that render powersharing and peace tenuous.
The civil war in South Sudan erupted as a result of state splintering along ethnic lines, between the country’s President Kiir and his Dinka allies, and Vice-President Machar, allied with the Nuer ethnic group. State splintering within the government, between President Kiir and Vice-President Machar resulted in the widespread use of violence against civilians along ethnic lines, and a failed peace agreement in 2015. In 2018, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was signed, reinstating Machar as Vice-President and restoring power-sharing between the government and Machar’s opposition party. The R-ARCSS includes a comprehensive transitional justice agenda, calling for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (the Commission for Truth Reconciliation and Healing – CTRH), a hybrid court for South Sudan (the HCSS), and a commission of inquiry (the Compensation and Reparations Authority – CRA). In January 2021, the government of South Sudan announced that initial steps to establish these transitional justice mechanisms were underway.
Project fieldwork in South Sudan explores the role of armed group accountability in the (trans)formation of South Sudan’s state splinter civil war path, from the pre- to post-war stages. Dr Sayra van den Berg will interview (former) armed group members, government officials, informal justice providers, members of civil society and civilians in war-affected communities across the ethnic and conflict party spectrum. The research approach combines ethnographic interviews, indigenous research methodologies and participatory research engagement to centralise an adaptive and reflexive approach to data collection and analysis. This research aims to understand: the role that accountability plays, as a mobilising concept, in the (trans)formation and cohesion of armed groups; the relationship between armed groups and conflict-affected communities through the lens of community-level justice measures; and the expectations of armed groups in relation to the transitional justice agenda currently under construction in South Sudan.