South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. A civil war began in 2013, when a rift between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the vice president he dismissed, Riek Machar, triggered fighting among their supporters and divided the country along ethnic lines. Since a peace agreement was reached in 2018, elections have been delayed; elites preside over an uneasy power-sharing arrangement. South Sudan suffers from rampant corruption and dire economic circumstances. Civilians, journalists, and aid workers have been targeted with atrocities.
- In August, parties to the country’s transitional governing agreement agreed to extend the transitional period to February 2025. Elections were consequently delayed to December 2024.
- Infighting between factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) occurred during the year. In July, for example, two factions’ supporters clashed in Upper Nile State, leading to 18 deaths.
- In November, the White Army, which is composed of armed fighters belonging to the ethnic Nuer group, reportedly attacked a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Upper Nile State, killing 3,000.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
Salva Kiir Mayardit was elected president of the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan in 2010 and remained president when it became independent. A revised version of Southern Sudan’s 2005 interim constitution, adopted at independence, gives sweeping powers to the chief executive. The president cannot be impeached but can dismiss state governors and dissolve the legislature and state assemblies. A permanent constitution has not been published. Elections due in 2015 were postponed due to the civil war, and Kiir’s mandate has been extended on several occasions.
In 2020, parties to the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) implemented its power-sharing arrangements, with Kiir serving as president of the transitional government and Machar as first vice president. Incumbent vice presidents, including Machar, received three-year terms in 2020. That March, ministerial posts were allocated to the previous government, the SPLM/A-IO, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–Former Detainees (SPLM-FD), the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), and the Other Political Parties (OPP) coalition.
In August 2022, the parties extended the transitional period by 24 months, envisioning a February 2025 conclusion. Kiir, Machar, and other incumbents would remain in post until after elections planned for December 2024.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The last election for the bicameral National Legislature was held in 2010. Its original mandate expired in 2015; polls have been regularly rescheduled or delayed since, most recently to December 2024.
President Kiir dissolved and reconstituted the National Legislature in May 2021. The lower house, the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA), was expanded to hold 550 seats. Some 332 people were nominated by the Kiir administration along with 128 from the SPLM/A-IO, 50 from the SSOA, 30 from the OPP, and 10 from the SPLM-FD. The upper house, the Council of States, was also reconstituted, expanding from 50 seats to 100.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The R-ARCSS called for a new, impartial National Elections Commission to be established by the end of the first year of the transition. The 2012 Electoral Act was updated in 2019 to bring it in line with international standards.
The government has otherwise made little progress constructing an electoral framework. Neither a census nor a constitution, which are required to facilitate polling, have been finalized. In May 2022, legislators enacted a bill amending the 2012 Political Parties Act (PPA). In October, the parliament passed a bill meant to guide the development of a constitution.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
The SPLM dominates the political landscape. Most competition takes place within the movement, which splintered at the outbreak of the civil war. Kiir’s hostility toward dissent within the SPLM contributed to the conflict.
Non-SPLM parties have legislative representation under the R-ARCSS but have neither the resources to operate effectively nor the experience to formulate policy and set party platforms. Under the amended PPA, parties must have at least 500 members in two-thirds of the states and administrative areas.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
If fully implemented, the R-ARCSS would eventually provide an opportunity for opposition groups to contest long-overdue elections. However, the 2010 elections featured violence and intimidation against opposition parties and SPLM members whose loyalty to Kiir was in doubt.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and the autonomous National Security Service (NSS) exercise significant political influence. The activities of other armed groups tied to partisan and ethnic factions have created an inhospitable climate for political participation by civilians.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0.000 4.004|
Women are underrepresented in South Sudanese politics. Women held only 32.4 percent of the TNLA seats and 32.1 percent of the Council of States after the National Legislature was reconstituted in 2021.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
The government and legislature, which lack electoral legitimacy, are unable to exercise control over the country’s territory.
A clique of Dinka leaders and close allies surround Kiir and exert undue influence on decision-making.
The Sudanese and Ugandan governments helped broker the 2018 peace deal but supported opposing sides during the civil war and have remained involved in South Sudanese affairs.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
State resources, including oil revenues, are concentrated among elites associated with the president. Military commanders have gained enormous wealth through corrupt procurement deals. Kiir has facilitated corruption by appointing officials who were previously accused of embezzlement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
Under the interim constitution, citizens have the right to access public information and records held by state entities. In practice, the government is hostile to scrutiny and lacks functional capacity. This is notably true for oil revenue, which accounts for a majority of the government’s receipts. A 2020 UN report stated that natural resources were illicitly extracted due to nontransparent management.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-4.00-4|
Both sides in the civil war have committed atrocities against civilians from rival ethnic groups, but government-aligned forces have been responsible for the worst attacks. The United Nations and the African Union (AU) have documented numerous incidents of murder, torture, rape, looting, ethnic displacement, and forced starvation. The AU and United Nations have both accused Kiir’s leadership of planning and coordinating such attacks. UN observers have noted the use of hate speech by senior officials including Kiir.
|Are there free and independent media?||0.000 4.004|
The transitional constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but this right is not respected in practice. The government censors, harasses, and arrests journalists, especially those who criticize it or report on corruption or sanctions. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least six journalists have been killed in the course of their work since 2015.
In May 2022, local authorities suspended Radio Jonglei, saying that it was “undermining the state leadership.” The station reopened later that month. In August, Diing Magot, a Voice of America–affiliated journalist who was covering a protest in Juba, was detained along with several protesters. Magot was later bailed.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1.001 4.004|
The interim constitution guarantees religious freedom, but houses of worship used as places of refuge for civilians have been attacked by gunmen seeking members of rival ethnic groups. In 2021, police arrested Prophet Abraham Chol Maketh of the Kush International Church for saying that Kiir and Machar would be deposed. In December 2022, Chol received a 31-month prison term.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
The education system was seriously disrupted by the civil war, with many schools closed or commandeered for military use. Some schools have reopened in recent years, but some teachers have not returned due to poor pay or delays in receiving pay. Planned campus activities require NSS permission; the NSS is known to send undercover agents to universities, prompting self-censorship at institutions.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||0.000 4.004|
The NSS has extensive, unchecked powers to conduct surveillance, monitor communications, and infiltrate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). According to the United Nations, agents have intimidated, detained, and murdered journalists, opposition activists, civil society representatives, and members of faith-based organizations, forcing many to flee the country.
In September 2022, the Justice Ministry created a special prosecutor’s office and court to address cybercrime. The prosecutor will help enforce a 2021 provisional order on cybercrime, which contains vague definitions for “computer misuse” and “offensive communication” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
The government restricts freedom of assembly, despite commitments made in the interim constitution. In practice, organizers must seek NSS permission to hold public meetings. Authorities responded harshly to an August 2022 cost-of-living protest in Juba. Six protesters were detained and one of them was injured.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0.000 4.004|
The government is hostile toward NGOs. A 2016 law requires NGOs to get written permission from the authorities to conduct activities and hold a bank account in South Sudan, and at least 80 percent of staff must be South Sudanese. Aid organizations have been criticized for hiring too few local residents.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
A 2018 labor law, which enshrines trade-union participation, collective bargaining, and the right to strike in certain conditions has not been effectively implemented. Legal protections for workers are poorly enforced in practice. The country’s limited union activity has historically been concentrated in the public sector.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
South Sudan’s judiciary is not independent in practice. There is a severe shortage of judges, partly due to poor pay and working conditions.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Authorities arbitrarily arrest individuals suspected of affiliating with armed organizations that oppose the peace deal.
The NSS Law gives that agency almost unlimited powers to detain and interrogate suspects. It is known to hold detainees extrajudicially, arbitrarily, and incommunicado. A bill that would limit some of its powers exists, though the president’s office referred it to the Justice Ministry in August 2022.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
South Sudanese have faced continued insecurity since the end of the civil war, in which nearly 400,000 people died. Intercommunal violence is common.
There is near-total impunity for perpetrators of wartime violence and sexual abuse. Little progress has been made establishing an AU-led hybrid court to address such offenses, as mandated in the 2015 and 2018 peace agreements.
Armed groups that are not party to the transitional agreement remain active in South Sudan. The first trainees of a unified military force graduated in August 2022, but that force is reportedly weak compared to other security services.
Infighting within the SPLM/A-IO contributed to insecurity during the year, with the leaders of two factions entering a power struggle. In July 2022, the factions’ supporters reportedly clashed in Upper Nile State, leading to 18 deaths.
In July 2022, the Mayom county commissioner was killed along with several relatives. The government blamed the South Sudan People’s Movement/Army (SSPM/A), an armed group, for the killings. SSPM/A forces were also blamed for killing government troops in an ambush in Mayom that month. SSPDF forces executed four people associated with the SSPM/A in early August.
The White Army, which backs an SPLM/A-IO faction led by Simon Gatwech Dual—who had once served as Machar’s military chief of staff—was also active in 2022, attacking civilians and causing displacement. In November, White Army fighters reportedly attacked an IDP camp in Upper Nile State, killing 3,000 civilians.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
International monitors have documented repeated, deliberate attacks by government forces against members of non-Dinka ethnic groups, most of them civilians. The perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
While the interim constitution includes gender-equality guarantees, women are routinely exposed to discriminatory customary practices and gender-based violence.
While same-sex sexual conduct is not explicitly illegal in South Sudan, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. LGBT+ people face widespread discrimination and social stigma, including harassment and abuse by security forces.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0.000 4.004|
The interim constitution enshrines free movement and residence, as well as the right to an education. The civil war, multiple local conflicts, and poor-to-nonexistent service delivery have made it impossible for many people to exercise these rights in practice. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said 2 million IDPs were receiving its support in South Sudan as of March 2022.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||0.000 4.004|
Land-use and ownership disputes frequently cause conflict, and the return of refugees has exacerbated the problem. Property rights are weak and not respected in practice. Customary practices often deny women their legal rights to property and inheritance.
Armed groups and influential politicians prosper through corrupt business deals and activities, including through illicit natural-resource extraction.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||0.000 4.004|
Domestic violence is common but is not legally addressed. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used extensively as weapons of war against both men and women, without legal consequence for perpetrators. A UN panel of experts’ November 2022 report on the country warned that conflict-related sexual violence remained widespread.
Customary law puts women at a disadvantage in matters of divorce and child custody. Forced and early marriages are common, with about half of girls marrying by age 18. Spousal rape is not a crime.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
Essential goods are unaffordable for ordinary people due to rampant inflation.
Trafficking in persons for forced labor and sexual exploitation is widespread. Rural women and girls, IDPs, and migrants from neighboring countries are among the most vulnerable to mistreatment. The use of child soldiers is also a serious problem. Girls have increasingly been forced to provide labor, including sex work.
On South Sudan
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Global Freedom Score1 100 not free