Landmark settlement on compensation between an Italian victim of torture and sexual violence and the Government of South Sudan

Professor Andrea Saccucci secures a historic settlement agreement with the Government of South Sudan for compensation of a female aid worker of Italian nationality who had been victim of torture and sexual violence by members of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army.

The events of the case occurred in July 2016 at the Terrain Hotel in Juba, the compound where the aid worker was staying, during the resumption of hostilities between soldiers belonging to the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (“SPLA”) − the militia of the Government of South Sudan, now merged into the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (“SSPDF”) − and those belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (“SPLM/A-IO”). During the hostilities, on the evening of 11 July, SPLA soldiers entered the Hotel Terrain, known to host journalists and aid workers, shot dead an ethnic Nuer journalist, looted the guests, and wildly raped some women, including the Italian aid worker, who was only rescued at dawn the following day.

The perpetrators were found guilty by the South Sudanese martial court of murder and sexual violence, among other crimes.

However, the victims of the brutal attack at the Hotel Terrain did not receive any form of monetary reparation from the South Sudanese Government, despite the fact that the latter was directly responsible for the gross human rights violations committed by the soldiers of the liberation army.

For this reason, the Italian victim instructed Professor Saccucci to file a lawsuit for damages before the Italian courts against the Republic of South Sudan relying on the judgment of the Italian Constitutional Court No. 238 of 2014, which denies immunity from jurisdiction to foreign States in case of international crimes, and to undertake any further initiative aimed at the adoption against the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army and its members of the restrictive measures provided for by Decision (CFSP) 2020/1999 of 7 December 2020 and Regulation 2020/1998 of 7 December 2020 (the so-called EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime), including the freezing of all assets and any economic resources owned or controlled by them.

However, since the Government of South Sudan expressed its willingness to settle the dispute, Professor Saccucci engaged into an intense negotiation with the proactive support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in cooperation with a local lawyer (Martha Jobe) and with an international NGO (Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights), which ended with the acceptance by the parties of an agreement on compensation.

Although this settlement cannot remedy the irreversible consequences suffered by the Italian victim, it is nevertheless an extremely positive result in terms of protection of the interests of victims of serious human rights violations and international crimes.

Indeed, judicial proceedings are not always the most appropriate form for achieving effective justice, considering not only the uncertainties and lengthy timeframe of any litigation but also the obstacles that may arise at the stage of the enforcement of any favourable judgement rendered against a foreign State.