Promote Justice for Sexual Violence
September 19, 2011
Some brave women and men have come forward and talked to us, despite the stigma of rape in Libya. They and others deserve to see justice served.
Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) − The National Transitional Council (NTC), the de facto authority that controls most of Libya, should investigate allegations of sexual violence perpetrated during the Libyan armed conflict and provide medical services, treatment, and support for survivors, Human Rights Watch said today.

Heads of state from the group of countries who have pledged to support Libya as it moves toward democratization – the so-called Friends of Libya – are gathering this week at the United Nations to discuss the future of the country. They should put dealing with sexual violence high on the list of priorities, Human Rights Watch said.

“The NTC has a duty to investigate allegations of sexual assault and to ensure that these claims are not buried,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Some brave women and men have come forward and talked to us, despite the stigma of rape in Libya. They and others deserve to see justice served.”

The full extent of sexual violence during the conflict remains unknown, due in part to the stigma surrounding rape in Libya and the dangers that survivors may face when they make crimes public. Human Rights Watch has documented nine cases of apparent gang rapes and sexual assault at the hands of Gaddafi forces, and one at the hands of unidentified perpetrators, committed between February and May 2011.  The assaults were mainly in territory controlled by Gaddafi forces at the time. 

The cases documented by Human Rights Watch involve three men and seven women, ranging in age from 22 to 41 years old. All of the victims allege gang rape, with one case involving at least seven perpetrators.

One survivor was unable to describe the perpetrators, but the other nine identified their tormenters as “soldiers,” “men in uniforms, ” and “men in camo shirts.”

Survivors described being abducted from their homes or arrested on the streets. They all described being raped and beaten. Some also told Human Rights Watch that they had been stabbed or had their hair pulled and cut off. Several people said perpetrators penetrated them with objects, including guns and a broomstick. 

S.A., a 34-year-old woman, described how three uniformed men broke into her apartment in February:

They took me to the bedroom; I was alone at home… They were beating me,” she said. “Then two of them started to rape me. I was crying and telling them, ‘please stop, I am a mother, I have two children.’ They raped me together… I was bleeding, there was blood everywhere.

A.G., a 39-year-old woman, said she was raped alongside her younger sister in April. She told Human Rights Watch that Gaddafi soldiers came to her home to look for her brother:

We were screaming because we were so afraid, and they were pushing weapons against us. After they destroyed everything, they got each of us in a room. They got into the room, they got on top of me, I was screaming, I heard my sister screaming. There were many of them, and they were taking turns... There were four or five of them… After he was done, he took the knife from the Kalashnikov and scratched my body and thighs, cutting them. After I lost a lot of blood, I fainted. After I woke up I didn’t know how long I had been unconscious. I found my body all cut and scratched. My sister was in the same shape.
 

N.H., a 23-year-old woman, said she was abducted from her home and gang raped in May. She told Human Rights Watch how a “military guy” punched her on the face and dragged her into a car:

When I tried to move, they hit me. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t move, so I gave up. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. They tore these and took my bra off. They tore off my trousers. They raped me. Four of them were taking turns. It was like someone pulled me and someone scratched me. Everyone did something in a disgusting way. I was a virgin. I got faint. They didn’t even stop. I felt blood all over me.
 

M.G., a 39-year-old man, said he was sexually assaulted in April along with his brother who is 28 years old. Five men “in military uniforms” abducted them from their home, he said, and took them to a place used by Gadaffi’s military. M.G. said the men anally raped and tortured him. He told Human Rights Watch:

There was a torture room… They would use electricity. They would hang us by the    hands… I was raped with some wood sticks, bottles, and weapons. They used the caliber [barrel] of a Kalashnikov. They would shoot with it so that it is hot and put it in my bottom. They also raped my brother.

Another male survivor, a 22-year-old former soldier for the Gaddafi government, described being tortured for three days and sexually assaulted after he was arrested on February 17 after participating in a demonstration and burning a picture of Gadaffi.

Human Rights Watch could not confirm claims of mass or systematic rape by Gaddafi forces.  But the stigma for victims, their fear of reprisal, and the lack of available services for victims of sexual violence may lead to underreporting, Human Rights Watch said.

“It has been extremely difficult to gather evidence about sexual violence in Libya,” said Gerntholtz.  “It is a complex environment, with a high level of stigma and taboo, which makes victims reluctant to speak.”

Human Rights Watch urged the NTC, with the support of the Friends of Libya, to begin providing services immediately for the victims of sexual assault. These services must place a high priority on victims’ confidentiality and privacy and should include treatment for physical injuries, medication for sexually transmitted infections and abortion-related services, Human Rights Watch said. Survivors also require urgent access to counseling and social support services, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch recommended that, given the stigma attached to rape in Libya, care for survivors should be discreetly inserted into other health services, including sexual, reproductive, and antenatal care.

“Special care should be taken not to further stigmatize survivors by offering them health care that identifies them as survivors of sexual violence,” Gerntholtz said.

Health care providers should receive training to help them screen patients for sexual assault, Human Rights Watch said. Where possible, survivors of sexual violence should be involved in the design and delivery of these services.

The NTC should also ensure that survivors of sexual violence have access to protection where they need it, Human Rights Watch said. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed concerns about their safety when their families found out that they had been raped. S.A., for example, told Human Rights Watch that she had been threatened by her brother-in-law after her husband took her to see a doctor:

I went back to my family’s home and stayed in a room alone – they would bring me a tray of food and leave. My brother-in-law came then and told me, “Either you commit suicide, or we kill you and make it look like a suicide, or an accident will happen, someone will clean a weapon and will kill you, accidentally.”

“The victims we spoke to are urgently in need of medical treatment and other services that will help them deal with what happened and ensure their safety, and for sure there are more victims we have not met,” Gerntholtz said. It is critical that the NTC and the international community focus on this very vulnerable group, and that appropriate services are developed to meet their needs.”