Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:50 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:50 | SYDNEY

Libya rape allegations must be heard

16 June 2011 08:58

Ellie Fogarty is the Lowy Institute's 2011 National Security Fellow. All views are her own, and do not reflect the position of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Australian Government.

Claims have emerged in the past week that Muammar Qadhafi ordered soldiers to commit hundreds of rapes as part of a concerted policy to repress dissent and punish women. It is also alleged that Qadhafi supplied solders with a Viagra-like drug to implement this policy. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, described Qadhafi's alleged orders as 'very bad – beyond the limits, I would say'.

Any level of rape, however, is beyond the limit.

The ICC was established in recognition of the fact that 'the most serious crimes of concern to the international community must not go unpunished'. But despite the prevalence of sexual violence in most of the situations before the Court, charges for sexual violence remain  underrepresented.

Since the situation in Libya was referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council on 26 February, the Prosecutor has applied for three arrest warrants for Qadhafi, his son Saif Al Islam Qadhafi, and his brother in law Abdullah Al-Sanousi. Each is alleged to have committed two crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, namely, murder and persecution as crimes against humanity.

Although the swiftness with which the UNSC and the ICC have responded to this situation is commendable, the absence of discussions of sexual violence in the ICC's initial response is disheartening. Since the conflict began, there have been reports of sexual violence being committed as part of widespread and systematic attacks.

Failure to respond to these violations of human rights — especially noting the absence of rape prosecutions in Libyan domestic courts, and the cultural stigma, social exile and isolation felt by victims — will send the message that the international community does not see sexual violence as among the 'most serious' international crimes.

If the ICC is to fulfil its role of putting an end to impunity for perpetrators of serious international crimes, and contributing to preventing such crimes in the future, it is essential that investigations of sexual violence receive the level of attention they deserve.

Photo by Flickr user ShababLibya.