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.
Sergewa has, so far, interviewed 140 of the victims who live in refugee camps and among families who have agreed to host them. Their stories match many eyewitness accounts from the embattled towns of Brega, Ajdabiya, Yefren and others.
One woman told Sergewa that a squad of soldiers consisting of Libyan loyalists and foreign mercenaries tied up her husband and raped her in front of him. After the soldiers were finished, they shot her husband in front of her eyes. Other women had been raped in front of their children. Some have been abducted and violated by more than 15 soldiers per day, then left naked in the desert.
Dr. Bashir Rajab Lasabai, a physician and human rights activist, said that he spoke to a woman who was abducted when she drove through a military checkpoint and soldiers found torn pictures of Gadhafi that her sister had earlier left in the back seat. She said the soldiers held her for over a month, during which time they beat and raped her. Eventually, one of the soldiers let her out and she fled to Tunisia.
Lasabai also spoke with eyewitnesses who reported that 50 women had been raped, killed and dumped into a cave around Yefren, a town in the Western Mountains. None of the women or the eyewitnesses can be identified by name because of the threat of violence they might face from Gadhafi's troops.
Most of the stories provided by women who said they had been raped cannot be independently confirmed although both Libyan and foreign doctors have found physical evidence of damage on the bodies of victims, such as bruises, burns, bite marks and scarring. One employee of a nongovernmental group, who has worked with doctors on some of these cases, said "without a doubt, it's always happening." He asked not to be identified.
On March 19, Gadhafi sent a large armored force towards Benghazi, the center of the Libyan uprising and de-facto rebel capital. Only a French airstrike stopped the division from reaching the city and leveling it with superior firepower. Rebels who raided the vehicles said that they found condoms and Viagra, a male sexual stimulant, among loyalist provisions, according to the rebel Transitional Council, reported various news agencies.
A recent CNN report found that rebels had acquired a cell phone from the loyalists, containing footage of a woman being sodomized "with what appears to be a broomstick."
Loyalist prisoners of war in the besieged city of Misurata told a BBC reporter that Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, ordered them to commit sexual violence and described how soldiers raped women inside a house while others danced and listened to music.
"One [prisoner of war] was a surgeon; he was with the troops from Tripoli," said a civilian officer with the Transitional Council who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of his work. "He said that Saif said 'go rape the woman and introduce yourself by family name.'"
The officer said that this was intended to sow enmity between the tribes of the rapists and victims and detract attention from the boss in Tripoli.
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Igor Kossov is a freelance journalist in the Middle East. He has recently investigated the Libyan insurrection and the plight of refugees in the region. He has also covered politics in Uganda as well as local and international issues in New York City.