As has been recently reported by the BBC, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed deep concern that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya is using wide-scale rape as a weapon of war.
Several days before the International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that there was evidence that the Libyan authorities bought “Viagra-type” medicines and gave them to troops as part of an official rape policy.
In her statement Ms. Clinton also accused several other regimes in Africa and the Middle East of using “rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment and even so-called ‘virginity tests’.”
Reports of hundreds of instances of rape of female and male civilians have been collected by several aid and charity organizations working in Libya. But until now, there has only been one recorded (although not verified) case of Iman al-Obeidi, who rushed into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli on March 26 to tell foreign journalists that she had been gang-raped by 15 members of Gaddafi’s militia. She flung open her clothes to show scars and bruises and told a horrifying story of being abducted, raped, beaten, urinated and defecated upon, before she was drawn away from the journalists by hotel guards and security personnel.
The story has never been properly investigated. Libyan authorities said al-Obeidi was insane, and called her a thief and a prostitute. She was released shortly after the incident, and then she was found in Tunisia and later in Qatar. From there she was deported back to Libya and finally, in early June she arrived in the US.
As for other cases, they remain not only unverified, but mostly anonymous.
- It is true that rape is one of the most horrifying consequences of any war, especially in Muslim society with its deeply rooted tradition of honor. But too many factors force caution with respect to Ms Clinton's remarks.
First. She herself has said that such cases are widespread “throughout the region”, but singled out Colonel Gaddafi as the main culprit, thus holding him responsible for similar crimes committed, say, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Second. The main factor leading to the “wide-scale” rape and other humiliating practices is the war itself. But it was not Gaddafi who started the war.
Third. As the UN HCR’ emergency coordinator for Libya Arafat Jamal has said, there have indeed been numerous instances of rape throughout Libya, but little evidence to prove that rape was being used as a weapon of war. More so, according to Mr. Jamal, rapes have been committed by both sides of the conflict.
And fourth, one should not forget that sexual intimidation and humiliation was in the early 2000s a widespread tactic used by the US itself, in their dealings with the inmates of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. So when Ms Clinton condemns sexual violence against protesters as acts violating “basic human dignity”, shouldn’t she first address her own country’s authorities?
The new set of accusations against Colonel Gaddafi (partly unverified, partly groundless and partly referring to other people and parties) just shows the frustration of the US leadership, which has found itself in a stalemate after three months of a military campaign that has not brought the US and NATO any closer to the declared aims. Thus, accusing Gaddafi of crimes that are fictitious or attributable to other people means influencing the public opinion, primarily in the US itself. In the last two decades sex has become a useful political tool in the liberal society (and Ms Clinton as former First Lady knows it better than anyone else. Thus, labeling the enemy a sexual offender virtually means putting a “black mark” on him.
After that the US can excuse itself from bothering to verify whether the reports of “wide-scale” rape are true or false.