Gaddafi forces rape hundreds - reports

2011-05-29 16:06

Benghazi - At first, the responses to the questionnaire about the trauma of the war in Libya were predictable, if tragic: 10 000 people suffering post-traumatic stress, 4 000 children with psychological problems. Then came the unexpected: 259 women said they had been raped by militiamen loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Dr Seham Sergewa had been working with children traumatized by the fighting in Libya but soon found herself being approached by troubled mothers who felt they could trust her with their dark secret.

The first victim came forward two months ago, followed by two more. All were mothers of children the London-trained child psychologist was treating, and all described how they were raped by militiamen fighting to keep Gaddafi in power.

Sergewa decided to add a question about rape to the survey she was distributing to Libyans living in refugee camps after being driven from their homes. The main purpose was to try to determine how children were faring in the war; she suspected many were suffering from PTSD.

To her surprise, 259 women came forward with accounts of rape. They all said the same thing.

"I was really surprised when I started visiting these areas, first by the number of people suffering from PTSD, including the large number of children among them, and then by the number of women who had been raped from both the east and west of the country," Sergewa said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Rape has been a common weapon of war throughout the ages, most recently in conflicts from the Balkans in Europe to Sri Lanka in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, where Congo has been described as the epicentre of sexual crimes.

Across the world, rape carries a stigma. But it can be a deadly one in conservative Muslim societies like Libya, where rape is considered a stain on the honour of the entire family. Victims can be abandoned by their families and, in some cases, left in the desert to die. Speaking to a journalist is out of the question.

Sergewa's questionnaire was distributed to 70 000 families and drew 59 000 responses.

They killed my husband afterwards

"We found 10 000 people with PTSD, 4 000 children suffering psychological problems and 259 raped women," she said, adding that she believes the number of rape victims is many times higher but that woman are afraid to report the attacks.

The women said they had been raped by Gadhafi's militias in numerous cities and towns: Benghazi, Tobruk, Brega, Bayda and Ajdabiya (where the initial three mothers hail from) and Saloum in the east; and Misrata in the west.

Some just said they had been raped. Some did not sign their names; some just used their initials. But some felt compelled to share the horrific details of their ordeals on the back of the questionnaire.

Reading from the scribbled Arabic on the back of one survey, Sergewa described one woman's attack in Misrata in March, while it was still occupied by Gaddafi's forces.

"First they tied my husband up," the woman wrote. "Then they raped me in front of my husband and my husband's brother. Then they killed my husband."

Another woman in Misrata said she was raped in front of her four children after Gaddafi fighters burned down her home.

"She ran away with her children and tried to escape to the port, but then they started shelling the port. In the chaos, she was separated from the children," Sergewa said.

"She was distraught when I interviewed her, not knowing if her children were dead or alive. I wish I knew the end of her story, but I don't know what happened to her."


Doctors at hospitals in Benghazi, the rebel bastion, said they had heard of women being raped but had not treated any. The first international air strikes on March 19 saved the city from falling into the hands of Gaddafi forces who were advancing in columns of tanks.

However, a doctor in Ajdabiya, 150km south of Benghazi, said he treated three women who said they were raped by Gaddafi fighters in March when the town was invaded.

"These women were terrified their families would find out - two were married, one was single," Dr Suleiman Refadi said. "They only came to me because they also were terrified that they may have been infected with the AIDS virus." He said they had tested negative but doubted they would return for follow-up tests.

Gaddafi's fighters were forced out of Ajdabiya weeks ago and the town now is largely deserted but for the rebels.

In a highly publicized case in Libya, Iman al-Obeidi burst into the hotel housing foreign journalists in Tripoli in March and accused pro-Gadhafi militiamen of gang-raping her because she is from rebel-held eastern Libya. Her anguished disclosure was captured by Western cameras and shown around the world.

Earlier this month, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Luis Moreno-Campo, said he has "strong evidence" of crimes against humanity committed by Gaddafi's regime, including serious allegations of "women arrested and gang raped".

One of Libya's leading psychiatrists, Dr Ali M Elroey, told the AP that he has set up three mobile teams to treat trauma victims of the war in their homes or in temporary shelters: one for PTSD, one for other psychological problems and one for rape survivors.

Elroey said they need to reach out to people in their homes because the stigma associated with psychiatric care is leaving large numbers of patients untreated.

His outpatient clinic at Benghazi's psychiatric hospital has treated more than 600 patients in two months, many responding to radio and newspaper advertisements offering psychiatric help for war trauma. He said most were women, though none had acknowledged being raped.

Want to die

Sergewa said she has interviewed 140 of the rape survivors in various states of mental anguish, and has been unable to persuade a single victim to prosecute. None would speak to the AP about her ordeal, even with a promise to hide her identity.

"Some I diagnosed with acute psychosis; they are hallucinating," Sergewa said. "Some are very depressed; some want to commit suicide. Some want their parents to kill them because they don't want their families to bear the shame."

Some already have been abandoned by their husbands and fear seeking treatment could get them ostracised or cast out of their communities. Others have kept the rapes a secret for fear of retribution from spouses. "They fear their husbands will take them out to the desert and leave them there to die," Sergewa said.

It is likely more rapes could occur as the conflict drags on, Sergewa said.

"They are using rape not just to hurt women but to terrorize entire families and communities," Sergewa said. "The women I spoke to say they believed they were raped because their husbands and brothers were fighting Gaddafi.

"I think it is also to put shame on the tribes or the villages, to scare people into fleeing, and to say: 'We have raped your women,"' she said.

Sergewa says women will continue to be targets of the militiamen, and this makes it all the more urgent to finish her study and get it published.

"We must throw light on what is really happening in Libya and fight to bring justice for these women, to help heal them psychologically," she said.

  • SoulF - 2011-05-29 16:15

    Hmmm and I saw Mbeki talking to the AU saying they told the West not to intervene and that they would handle it Africa's way, diplomatically and peacefully. I'm really sure all that means is let Gadhafi's men carry on being absolute sadists.

      Mr D - 2011-05-29 16:44

      The same will happen here

      4b6 - 2011-05-30 11:21

      Yes and Mbeki totally ignores the fact that it was the Arab League, not the AU which asked the UN to take action in the first place.

  • Assegaai - 2011-05-29 16:45

    What's happening there happend everyday in SA

      Pencilgraffiti - 2011-05-29 18:38

      @Ass - I know SA has MANY problems but to compare it to a war ravished country is pathetic and stupid and disrespectful of the people there's trauma. Grow some decency.

  • Lightdancer - 2011-05-29 16:59

    My heart bleeds for these women...terrible sight of war and utter inhuman behavior...I feel sick reading reports such as this...but, shutting our eyes want do any good neither...when will men learn to respect and honor the innocent...

  • Marshal - 2011-05-29 17:39

    So they are African after all!

      DoublySalmon - 2011-05-29 21:36

      Seems like it is indeed the litmus test. These so called men need to be punished.

  • Schalk - 2011-05-29 18:45

    Its a disgrace! Such hipocracy, no wonder ANC are so friendly with this lot they emply the same doctrine and tactics in politics and war. Mind you in the Anglo Boer war the boer farmers wifes and daughters had to suffer the same fate both by british soldiers and those that helped the british

      Ldn_saffa - 2011-05-29 22:44

      .....which just proves over the last one and a half centuries that some cultures have evolved and some haven't......

  • SATTIRE - 2011-05-29 23:05

    Sick man sick if this is true then this guy should be taken out man. CMon Obama send your team in man in the face man and sleep with the fishes man do it man do it. eish

  • Jim - 2011-05-30 08:19

    I ask you , and Zuma is supporting this????? This is the sort of thing our Gov. is supporting????

  • jaycee - 2011-05-30 10:58

    I hope Zuma will convey the seriousness of these criminal acts to Gaddafi at their meeting.

  • Andries Pretorius - 2011-05-30 11:59

    This must be why Zuma was flown in.... As a subject matter expert on rape!

  • VEO - 2011-05-30 12:12

    I'm not surprised that NATO and Europe snub the AU, when they have the likes of Zuma in their midst, who thinks that the sun shines out of Gaddafi's you-know-what !! He has got to be the worst so-called president of South Africa ! His trip to Lybia is an absolute waste of time, and taxpayers money. Will he condemn Gadaffi's troops for the innocent killings and rapes. Bet not, but probably offer him safe passage to South Africa. Hope the Lybian opposition catch Gadaffi and hand him over to the International Court

  • moderfontein - 2011-05-30 12:25

    Gaddfi forces rape, Gaddfi forces , steal , Gaddfi forces use child soilders, Gaddfi forces use cluster bombs , Gaddfi forces torture civillians, Gaddffi forces blah , blah , blah, just more black propaganda from the Zionist in the Pentagon .Its amazing all the so called human rights groups (most of dubious origin ) always come up with this sort of nonsense and lies to back up Zionist Impearlist agression aganist any leader or nation who dare fight back to protect their countrys soverigntry. Always beware of so called "Human Rights Groups" who act as cheer leaders for Zionist Western Impearlist. Notice how thse so called "Human Rights groups are silent about the crackdown on protest in Sudia Aribia, and the slughter in Bahrain were American Impearlist have their fith fleet based. Take this latest rant and lies agnist the brave loyal people of Libya who have dared to protect their vast oil reserves andhuge Gold stock from Zionist Impearlist plunder.

  • Rachel Baroni - 2011-05-31 23:49

    Al-Gathafi eats babys too... they are yummy with sweet and sour sauce. Help! He is at the east gate licking his wolf chops. Oh no, now he is at the west gate - send NATO - we got a lot of babies here... Get a grip people! As far as I know no hotel maids have brought any allegations... yet. Claire Gillis must feel like such a loser 16 days and no salami! Can you say baloney. London trained child psychologist - what an oxymoron... anyone can buy a "London" degree. Al-Gathafi bought Saif one. It was reported earlier that the "LSE had accepted a 1.5 million pounds donation from Libya after awarding the dictator’s son with the PhD degree in 2008. The controversy led to the resignation of LSE Director Sir Howard Davies, after it was further revealed that the institution had also benefited from a 2.2 million pounds contract with Libya to train its civil servants." The truth is "they" loved the so called "dictator" until he tried to liberate Africa from the dollar with a gold dinar.

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