Gaddafi’s men ‘use rape as weapon of war’

Anti-Gaddafi protesters

More than 100 women are victims, says doctor as siege of Misrata continues

BY David Cairns LAST UPDATED AT 12:54 ON Sun 17 Apr 2011

Horrifying accounts of the systematic use of gang rape as a weapon of war by fighters loyal to dictator Colonel Gaddafi have emerged from Libya. Women have been violated in front of their own children - and some have asked their relatives to kill them rather than face Gaddafi's men.

Khalifa al-Sharkassi, a German-trained doctor based in al-Baida in north-eastern Libya, told the Sunday Times he is collecting the testimony of abused women. He believes as many as 100 have been subjected to gang rape.

The claims come three weeks after Iman al-Obeidi burst into a government-controlled press conference for foreign journalists in Tripoli, distressed and bruised, to accuse Gaddafi's men of subjecting her to gang rape. She has since become a focal point for opponents of Gaddafi's regime worldwide (above).

Sharkassi decided to speak out despite rigid taboos on discussing rape or "dishonour" as it is known in Libyan society. He told the story of one 28-year-old mother of two, identified only as Leila, who was violated with one of her young children in her arms.

Leila told Sharkassi she was raped on the night of March 14 by Gaddafi's soldiers who came to her home when her husband was away fighting for the rebels.

She said: "The soldiers told me they would kill my children. They sneered 'you or your children'. I held one son close but one of the men forced me down onto the bed, then it happened..."

The attack took place as her children, aged 4 and 5, watched. Such is the shame associated with rape in Libya that Leila's husband will not see her and she is contemplating suicide.

Reporter Hala Jaber says this is just one of many cases he has been told about. In another, a woman was raped over several hours, losing consciousness and waking again to find a bad bite on her breast.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi's regime continues its merciless bombardment of Misrata, a rebel-held town some 150km to the north-west of Tripoli. Such defiance just under his nose is thought to have enraged Gaddafi, making Misrata a key target.

The city is undergoing a savage bombardment every day, prompting comparisons to Stalingrad. In the past 48 hours alone, more than 200 attacks by rockets and artillery have been launched, killing 40 and injuring 105.

Gaddafi's troops are fighting street battles as they try to cut off the rebels' access from Misrata to the sea, the city's only lifeline. If the city falls to Gaddafi it could be decisive in the country's civil war, marking the collapse of opposition to the dictator in the west of the country.

On Friday, it emerged that Gaddafi is using cluster bombs on his own people, prompting a call from General Lord Dannatt, the former UK army chief, for the UN to arm the rebels. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.