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Systematic Rape

June 9, 2011

While Western and Arab ministers meet to discuss what's next for Libya, the International Criminal Court says there is evidence that Moammar Gadhafi authorized systematic rape at the hands of his troops.

Moammar Gadhafi
Not only the pressure but the accusations against Gadhafi are mountingImage: AP / United Nations

Government representatives from more than 20 countries, including the US, France, Italy and Britain joined delegates from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference for the third International Contact Group meeting on Libya.

The talks, which were being held in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, come just a day after US President Barack Obama said the pressure on the Libyan leader would continue until he stepped down and handed power over to his people.

In a White House press conference on Wednesday, he spoke of an "inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back," and of defections both from the government and the military. "I think it is just a matter of time before Gadhafi goes," he concluded.

Money issues

Among the issues on the agenda for the Abu Dhabi talks was what happens after he has gone, and activating a contact group fund set up in May to help rebels fighting against Gadhafi.

Rebel artillery with libyan flag ad soldiers
Libyan rebels say they need money to keep going and feed the peopleImage: dapd

On the fringes of the meeting, Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni called on participants to honor pledges made last month and be more forthcoming with financial assistance. He suggested using the Gadhafi regime's frozen assets as collateral for loans to help the Libyan people.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Hahyan told reporters that the council had proven itself as a "legitimate representative of the Libyan people," and that it was now up to the Contact Group to provide it with "the necessary support."

Kuwait responded with a promise to "immediately" transer 124 million euros ($180 million) to the TNC. And Italy, the one-time colonial power in Libya, promised to provide the rebel council with up to 400 million euros in loans and fuel products, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, reiterated the belief that Gadhafi's rule is coming to an end.

"We must remain focused and united in order not to give Gadhafi any chance to regain territory," the co-chair of the Abu Dhabi meeting said. "Our priority is an effective ceasefire following Gadhafi's exit."

Mass rape allegations

This week, NATO launched heavy airstrikes on the Libyan capital of Tripoli, which has been the leader's stronghold throughout the four months of the rebel uprising. But despite mounting military, political and economic pressure, Gadhafi still refuses to step down.

Soldiers loyal to Gadhafi next to a heavy weapon
Gadhafi's troops have been accused of systematic rape as instructed by the leaderImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Last month International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo requested that charges of crimes against humanity be brought against the Libyan leader, and has now said he may present an additional charge of mass rape.

Allegations that Ghadafi's troops had been provided with the impotency drug Viagra first surfaced back in April, but Ocampo says that there was no immediate evidence to suggest the leader's involvement.

"Rape is a new aspect of the repression," he said, adding that it had not previously been used by the Libyan regime as a means of controlling the population. "That is why we had doubts at the beginning, but now we are more convinced that he decided to punish using rape."

Gadhafi's government has since denied the allegations of endorsing the sexual abuse of thousands of women across the country, claiming instead to be the victim of "widespread aggression."

Finding evidence

Luise Moreno-Ocampo at a podium giving a speech
Luis Moreno-Ocampo says Gadhafi used rape as a form of punishmentImage: picture alliance/dpa

Human rights lawyer Stefan Kirchner says past experience shows it is not too difficult to gather evidence when rape has been used as a weapon of war.

"Because it is not just a handful of cases, but systematic rape which goes on for a certain amount of time, you will get witnesses," he told Deutsche Welle. "And there is always the possibility that individual soldiers who are caught and who committed rape might talk themselves."

The lawyers says proving that Viagra had been used by the rapists would not be necessary in order to successfully bring the extra charge against Gadhafi.

"He could be prosecuted for giving the order or implying an order to rape," Kirchner explained. "It is enough for him to give his troops the impression that he wants them to rape women."

In the coming days ICC judges are expected to announce whether or not they will issue arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son and an intelligence officer on charges of crimes against humanity. Ocampo says he might request that the additional charge be added once that decision is final.

Author: Tamsin Walker
Editor: Rob Mudge