By Igor Kossov
Monday, June 20, 2011
Victim testimonies and recovered material from Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists point to the widespread use of rape as weapon of war in Libya. Hundreds of women have given testimony; some of which has reached the International Criminal Court.
BENGHAZI, Libya (WOMENSENEWS)--Since the start of the Libyan uprising, Col. Moammar Gadhafi has used many weapons to crush the rebels, including machine guns, tanks and rocket launchers.
Now, evidence is piling up about the use of another weapon--mass rape of Libyan women.
Gadhafi's government has denied any involvement in sexual assault.
In the state-owned newspaper, Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesperson, called the allegations "the same old nonsense" and invited people to investigate the charges.
"Unfortunately many people choose to accuse us cheaply of many many crimes and they refuse to come on the ground and investigate," he was quoted as saying in the Tripoli Post.
Tripoli is under military lockdown and reporters and other investigators are tightly restricted.
The stories that are being gathered from women, along with materials--such as Viagra, condoms and cell phone videos of sexual assault-- found among captured loyalist equipment, provide a different narrative.
Gadhafi and some of his commanders ordered their troops to rape women in order to punish the rebels and destabilize their ranks, according to victim testimonies gathered by Libyan doctors and statements by loyalist prisoners of war.
Doctors and human rights workers interviewed by Women's eNews reported that some of the women said they had been raped in front of their families and others said have been abducted and gang-raped daily.
This war tactic is especially destructive in Libyan society, which views sexual violation as deeply shameful not only for the victim, but also her family and tribe. Many victims are reluctant to come forward, hindering efforts to help them.
"He knows our culture and our mentality and the biggest punishment is to have women raped," said Hana el-Gallal, a human rights expert and member of the Benghazi-based Protection Against Violence Committee, formed recently to help the victims.
Dr. Siham Sergewa, a Libyan psychiatrist, along with a team of students and volunteers, have distributed survey questionnaires to approximately 61,000 refugees inside and outside Libya over the past several months. She has heard back from about 42,000.
Of the internally displaced, 259 women, aged 14 to 57, have revealed to Sergewa that they have been raped.
Among the refugees staying in Tunisia, 300 additional women said they had been raped. The actual number may be considerably higher as many women may not have come forward due to social stigma. Some women have been abandoned by their husbands after they were victimized, though this is not common, Sergewa said.
Sergewa is presenting her collected evidence to the International Criminal Court at the Hague in the Netherlands on an ongoing basis. The court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said in a June 8 statement: "We had doubts at the beginning but now we are more convinced that [Gadhafi] decided to punish using rapes."
"They feel fear, shame, guilt, worry about punishment . . . Psychologically, [stigma] is possible and they're afraid of backlash," Sergewa said in an interview last week conducted in a Benghazi hospital.
She said the women she spoke to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, are constantly afraid and suffer headaches, nausea and have trouble sleeping. Many have reported feeling "dirty" and a constant need to wash. Some have recurring suicidal urges.
Gallal, Sergewa and others are working to establish a support infrastructure for the victims. Externally, they are working with international organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, International Medical Corps and others to train doctors, psychologists and volunteers.
Internally, they are trying to change social attitudes towards rape through community outreach and awareness campaigns and trying to make sure that the women are treated with dignity and sensitivity when they are ready to seek help. Gallal said that the "hardest part is working with the people around the victim."