South Sudan: Murder rates at wartime levels in Jonglei


DavidDeng(Juba, South Sudan) - In 2012, the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS) and Pact-South Sudan conducted a household survey on access to justice in six rural counties of South Sudan. Included in the survey were the counties of Akobo and Pibor in Jonglei State.

Reports of mass killings periodically trickle out of these two counties, but no one has yet attempted to place a figure on the numbers of people killed in the course of inter-communal attacks, cattle raids, forced disarmament programs, politically motivated rebellions and government counter-insurgency campaigns. Some of the reports that have captured the media headlines in recent years include the following:

  • In April 2011, attacks in Pibor and Pochalla counties resulted in approximately 200 to 300 deaths, 91 child abductions and 4,400 displaced.
  • A June 2011 attack on Pibor resulted in an estimated 430 deaths and 7,000 to 10,000 displaced.
  • In August 2011, Murle raids on the Lou resulted in the death of 640 people, kidnapping of 208 children, and displacement of 26,800 people, in just a matter of days.
  • In late December 2011, a column of six to eight thousand Lou Nuer youth from Akobo attacked Murle villages in Pibor. Early reports from local government officials indicated that more than 3,000 people were killed. Investigators from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) verified that a minimum of 612 Murle had been killed.
  • A February 2013 attack by suspected Murle raiders killed 114 civilians and 14 soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Akobo.
  • In July 2013, thousands of Lou Nuer youth attacked Murle villages in Pibor killing an untold number of civilians.

The SSLS survey gathered the perceptions and experiences that populations in the six counties have had with various justice issues. Teams of enumerators interviewed a total of 1520 households, including 527 households in Akobo and Pibor.

The findings are indicative of the fact that eight years after the end of the civil war, death rates remain at conflict levels in parts of South Sudan.

One-quarter of the households in Akobo and Pibor reported having one or more household members killed within the past two years, and nearly three-quarters of these incidents were reported as intentional (as opposed to accidental) killings. Applying these percentages to the population data for Akobo and Pibor provides an estimate of 6,930 households having one or more household members killed in the past two years.

A 2012 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on murder rates offers some comparison. The study tracked murder rates in various locations around the world, excluding countries in the midst of war. The Honduran city of San Pedro Sula had the world’s highest murder rate, with 159 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. The figures from Akobo and Pibor correspond with a yearly murder rate of about 1,218 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, more than seven times that of San Pedro Sula.

While the methodology used in the SSLS survey differs from that used in the UNODC study, and it is difficult to compare the UNODC findings with results drawn from a household survey in two of South Sudan’s most violent counties, the numbers nonetheless illustrate the severity of the problem in Jonglei and the urgent need for decisive action to bring these deadly cycles of revenge attacks under control.

In order to address the problem of inter-communal and politically motivated violence, the Government of South Sudan and its international partners should streamline justice and accountability into all of their conflict reduction activities. Until the justice system is able to secure some minimum degree of accountability for these types of atrocities, victimized populations will continue to take the law into their own hands through revenge killings and the atrocities in Jonglei and other conflict-affected areas of South Sudan will continue.

*The author is a director for the South Sudan Law Society. Email:<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;

Soft copies of the SSLS/Pact report are available at:

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