New evidence links Gadaffi to a crime that is centuries old
The announcement today that that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were issued with industrial quantities of viagra-type drugs to carry out his orders to rape Libyan women was guaranteed to make headlines (see WVoN story).
But mass rape during war is not new. It was first recognised as a crime against humanity in 2001 after rape camps were set up in Bosnian during three years of war that ended in December 1995.
Its history stretches back to the ancient Greeks who viewed rape as well within the rules of warfare.
In modern history German women and girls were raped by the Russian Red Army following the capture of Berlin in 1945 and kept silent about their ordeal for decades.
More recently mass rape took place during the Rwandan genocide in1994 and in fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This year there were reports of rape taking place during the fighting over the disputed presidential election in Ivory Coast.
Rape has been used in Libya to intimidate and force people to leave, including reports that the hundreds of people who fled the besieged city of Misrata were doing so because of the fear of sexual assault.
Rape is also used as a means of political repression and of attacking activists and their families. Women have also been raped in ethnic and religious conflicts to make them pregnant and subjugate a community.
Last week I interviewed Seida Saric, Bosnia director of Women for Women International, who was also interviewed by Women’s Views on News.
She told me that the fear of the rape camps had hung over her during the four years she lived in besieged Sarajevo more than the fear of death:
“Death was one thing – if it’s death it’s death and maybe that’s your destiny,” said Saric. “But we were hearing that there were rape camps and we were more afraid of ending up there”.
Rape is “history’s greatest silence” said Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, speaking today on the BBC World Service’s The World Today.
“It is a very cheap and silent and effective tool,” said Wallstrom, adding that it was important not to focus on the sensational details but on the brutality of the crime that had been committed.
“Unfortunately this is something that we have seen consistently and heard reported consistently not only from Libya but other war zones and conflicts.”
The announcement today by Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court that there is evidence that Gaddafi’s troops targeted women in a systematic campaign of rape is an important step.
The legal recognition of rape as a war crime was achieved after many women defied the stigma of rape to speak about their ordeal. Yet only 12 of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 cases of rape in Bosnia have been prosecuted.
The charges against Colonel Gaddafi will be be added to allegations of crimes against humanity which resulted in the issue of an arrest warrant for the Libyan leader, his son Saif al-Islam and one of his security guards.
This followed the decision by the UN Security Council in February to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court because of abuses against civilians during the crackdown against rebels.
It was Iman al-Obeidi who brought to the world’s attention the fact that women were being raped in Libya when she went to a hotel full of Western journalists.
As Wallstrom said today, the international community should focus not on the shame and humiliation of rape but on the brutality of the crime.
It is vital, she said, that Libyan women and women in all countries where rape is used as a weapon of war “are given justice and that the crimes do not go with impunity”.