The Libyan woman who burst into a Tripoli hotel to tell journalists she had been raped at the hands of Gaddafi’s militia gave the world a rare window into the possible crimes against women taking place in Libya. Just today, a government official announced that Iman Al-Obeidi is facing slander charges filed by the very men she accused.
“It is a very grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual crime,” a government spokesman said.
In the above Al Jazeera video, a Libyan doctor interviewed says many doctors have found Viagra and condoms in the pockets of dead pro-Gaddafi fighters, as well as treated female rape survivors. The doctor insists this clearly indicates the Gaddafi regime is using rape as a weapon of war.
Amnesty International released a statement Monday on Iman Al-Obeidi that promised to investigate the possible war rape:
Iman al-Obeidi’s allegations are stomach-churning. The Libyan authorities must immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation and bring those responsible to justice if the allegations are well-founded. It is extremely disturbing that Iman al-Obeidi was forcibly dragged away by Libyan security officials when she tried to speak to journalists.
War rapes have been recognized under the Geneva Convention as crimes against humanity since 1949. Yet rape has continued to be used as a military strategy during the past century, including the systematic rape of women in Bosnia in the 1990s, the battle for Bangladeshi independence in 1971, and as far back as during the 1937 occupation of Nanking, BBC reported.
The United Nations Security Council more recently passed a resolution that called war rape a “tactic of war,” stating:
Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group
The resolution hopes to fight war rapes in regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is estimated hundreds of thousands of women have been raped since the conflict started, and local health centers in one province estimated that 40 women are raped in the region every day.
But how do we really make rape of women during times of warfare stop? The U.N. acknowledges that the 2008 resolution is no panacea. Amnesty International says the Libyan authorities in particular have long gotten away with silencing those who dare to speak out against human rights violations.
Will the case of Iman Al-Obeidi, who claimed she was raped by 15 militia men, do anything to change it?
Much of the world watched as Gaddafi supporters threw punches and a waitress brandished a butter knife at Al-Obeidi as another waitress covered Al-Obeidi’s face. The world heard Al-Obeidi say loud and clear: “They defecated and urinated on me and tied me up. They violated my honor.” Al-Obeidi warned, “As soon as I leave here they will take me right to jail,” and it looks like she may be right. Will all of that help?
Maybe. Here’s why.
Iman Al-Obeidi’s mother, Aisha Ahmed, said she was “very proud” of the courage displayed by her daughter. “I don't feel ashamed, instead my head is up high,” Ahmed told Al-Jazeera, saying her daughter “broke the barrier that no other man could break” by coming forward about her rape.
Although allegedly pressured to recant her story, Ahmed did not do so.
The rebel-formed National Transitional Council called Al-Obeidi’s treatment “criminal, barbaric, and an unpardonable violence against her dignity, the dignity of the Libyan people, and all of humanity.”
Benghazi women marched in support of Al-Obeidi on March 27.
A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch noted that Libya’s law discourages “rape victims from seeking justice by presenting the threat of prosecution of the victims themselves.” Yet Al-Obeidi publicly came out with her story, breaking a societal taboo. And instead of turning against her, Al-Obeidi’s family and fellow Libyans came out in strong support of Al-Obeidi.
The Libyan government has taken notice of that support. Time Magazine has called the case “Libyan Regime’s Other Crisis” because despite Libya’s aversion to prosecuting criminal rape cases, the regime has already tried to contain the fall-out by arresting five men. They even arrested the son of a high-ranking police officer.
What do you think? Will Iman Al-Obeidi’s case change anything for Libya? For war rapes around the world? Watch Al-Obeidi’s original video here: