Libya starts facing up to Gaddafi regime’s sex crimes
The young woman introduced as ‘The Revolutionary’ was breaking a taboo in Libya by speaking out about how she and other women had been raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s men in the early months of the country’s uprising.
‘They arrested me publicly at Nasser University,’ she said, recalling how guards in Tripoli came for her and two other young women who expressed support for the revolution that led to Gaddafi’s overthrow.
‘They told me, ‘We are only going to take you away for questioning, and then we will bring you back’.
Instead, the young woman said, a local official told the men: ‘Take these girls to Mutassim and enjoy them tonight.’ Mutassim was one of Gaddafi’s sons and a military commander in the capital; he was later captured and killed.
The two unmarried women were taken away and never seen again. The Revolutionary, who was married and pregnant, was taken to a prison near Tripoli, where she was stripped and raped. She miscarried in prison, she said.The three victims’ crime had been to criticise Gaddafi in a video clip broadcast on an international television channel. Many people, male and female, were raped as punishment for opposing Gaddafi’s government, but The Revolutionary is one of the few who agreed to talk about her suffering.
In Libya, rape victims are often ostracised, and discussion of the crime remains taboo. There are small signs of change, with the government promising action to help victims, but the issue remains so sensitive that aid groups sometimes hide their efforts to help victims to avoid causing an outcry.
The Revolutionary, a woman in her 20s, spoke on condition of anonymity from behind a black veil, only her eyes showing. With the pain of recollection, her voice gradually rose to a shrill pitch.
‘They (our captors) wanted to insult us and to take away our dignity,’ she said. ‘The youngest girl there was 14; the oldest was my mother’s age. The women were stripped and subjected to all kinds of torture.’
The torture included electrocution, she told a conference session attended by Reuters. She gave her account at a hotel in Tripoli as part of an event earlier this year organised by the Libya Initiative, a project that brings together various rights groups to promote healing and a just society in post-war Libya.
‘Imagine how many women put up with this. It should be recognised,’ she said. ‘But the country is not paying attention to any of these criminals. Maybe they are outside now, standing guard at checkpoints.’
Campaigners say it is important to acknowledge the crimes committed during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule and the revolution that led to his downfall in 2011. They say the painful process is ‘necessary for stability and the construction of a society based on truth, justice and democracy’.
Souad Wheidi, an activist creating an archive of the sex crimes committed during the revolution, stood next to The Revolutionary as she addressed the conference, comforting her when the girl broke down as she reached the end of her story. The activist has campaigned for government action and such efforts appear to be having an effect.