Heavy-handed pacification

During Rin Tueny’s time in office, he has transformed Lakes from one of the most troubled areas in South Sudan to one of the most secure, prompting some to speculate whether his methods could be adopted by other state governments troubled by communal violence. The southern part of the Greater Bahr al-Ghazal region, including Lakes and Warrap states, has long witnessed cattle raiding and inter-communal violence. In recent years, cattle camps have increasingly become heavily armed and fortified compounds.

According to state officials, disarmament is at the heart of Rin Tueny’s strategy. Indeed, some have noted that, since he took office, weapons—once a common sight in all parts of the state—are now rarely seen in public. Views diverge, however, on whether this is due to weapons collection or because armed youth are simply leaving firearms at home to avoid trouble with the SSPDF. Another strategy to reduce interpersonal conflict, and the risk of armed violence, is a ban on alcohol.[1]

The governor is very much at the centre of the state’s security apparatus. As a close ally of President Kiir and a former chief of military intelligence, he has amassed a strong SSPDF presence in the state. Moreover, his high status among military commanders has made them amenable to implementing his deterrence-based approach, whereby extra-legal processes are employed to discourage people from committing crimes, including raiding and the possession of illegal arms. SSPDF-run detention centres are a key component to this strategy.

Having demonstrated measurable achievements in reducing everyday violence, Rin Tueny has generated public support, including from state officials among Lakes’ political opposition.[2] There is little tolerance, however, for disapproval or criticism of his methods.

Extra-legal detentions and killings are allegedly perpetrated by SSPDF units whose commanders are in close contact with Rin Tueny.[3] On 19 April 2023, the state’s human rights adviser resigned in light of these allegations, which he said were common practice within the state, accusing Rin Tueny of acting as an ‘arresting officer, prosecutor, and judge’ (Radio Tamazuj, 2023c). A week after the adviser’s resignation, the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan released a report stating that local observers had attributed the reduction of violence to the governor’s law enforcement, characterizing it as ‘swift and sweeping military operations that often bypass legal safeguards’ (UNSC, 2023, p. 25). Additionally, the Panel reported that, between April and May of the previous year, at least 15 extrajudicial killings were recorded by human rights monitors (UNSC, 2023, pp. 25–26).


[1] Interviews with civil society, researchers, and government officials, Rumbek, Lakes state, April 2023.

[2] Interviews with South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) politicians and SPLA-IO military in Lakes state, April 2023.

[3] Interview with security agent from Lakes state, Juba, April 2023.