by Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
TRIPOLI, Lybia– Last week, 29 year old Libyan lawyer Eman al-Obeidy ran into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and accused 15 Libyan soldiers of gang-raping her over a period of two days. At the hotel, where numerous foreign journalists were having breakfast, al-Obeidy showed them bruises on her face, thighs and blood on her inner thighs. She also had what appeared to be rope burns on her wrists and ankles and shouted to the journalists, “Look at what Gadhafi’s brigades did to me. . .My honor was violated by them.” One hotel staffer pulled out a knife and call her a traitor while another attempted to throw a dark table cloth over her head. A government official at the hotel pulled out a gun. A scuffle ensued when government supporters attempted to take the journalists reporting equipment. Several reporters were kicked and pushed to the ground and one reporter’s camera was taken and smashed. As security dragged al-Obeidy from the hotel she yelled “If you don’t see me tomorrow, then that’s it.”
Since this incident, al-Obeidy has not been seen or heard from by anyone including her sister with whom she lives, despite the government reporting they released her on Sunday. Immediately following her claims, government spokespersons first called her mentally ill and drunk, later saying she was a prostitute. The government is now saying that she is in fact mentally fit to stand trial. Government spokesman Mousa Ibrahim says they will investigate her claims but since her appearance at the hotel, the soldiers have filed slander suits against al-Obeidy.
Al-Obeidy’s claims highlight UN peacekeeper Patrick Cammaert assertion that “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern wars.” In a country like Lybia, women who are raped are considered to have lost their honor and children born to rape victims lack full legal status. In 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that Lybia sent rape victims to ‘rehabilitation centers’ where they were imprisoned and sometimes raped by the center’s staff as punishment for bringing shame on Lybia. Mona Eltahawy, a journalist on Muslim and Arab concerns, said of al-Obeidy’s public claims, “No one would do that unless they were raped, and especially in a conservative society.” More recently, medical examiners have reported finding condoms and the drug Viagra in the pockets of dead Libyan soldiers, saying it is proof that soldiers are carrying out sexual assaults.
Al-Obeidy’s situation also highlights the difficulty war-rape victims have in bringing charges before the courts. In the days following the hotel incident, lawyers and human rights activists tried to contact al-Obeidy’s sister at her home but were turned away by security forces outside of the home. Al-Obeidy’s mother, Aisha Ahmad, says she received a phone the day after her daughter was dragged from the Tripoli hotel from a man offering Ahmad and al-Obiedy money to drop the charges against the soldiers. Ahmad refused the money.
Ibrahim, who has claimed that journalists will be allowed to interview al-Obeidy in the coming days, said he did not know where she is, stating on Thursday, “The only place she will be other than her family house [is in a shelter]. . .Maybe she is there.” Al-Obeidy’s family is holding out hope that she will return to them safely and have promised to support her. In al-Obeidy’s home-town of Tobruk the family held a religious ceremony at the local mosque to show the support of the whole community. Al-Obiedy’s mother, who says she has not been able to eat or sleep in the week since her daughter went missing, said of Gadhafi, “If I were to see his face, I would strangle him.”
For more information, please see;
Huffington Post– War’s Brutal Tactics– 31 March, 2011
NPR– Reports Emerging of Rape By Libyan Soldiers– 31 March, 2011
CNN– How One Voice Can Tell the Story of an Entire Movement– 1 April, 2011
The Globe and Mail– Rape Case Underscores Gadhafi’s Brutality– 30 March, 2011
CNN– Alleged Rape Victim to Meet With Journalists, Libyan Government Says– 1 April, 2011