Libyan authorities should immediately allow Eman al-‘Obeidy, the woman who alleged that she was raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces, to leave Tripoli for her safety and to receive medical care, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Libyan authorities have further victimized al-‘Obeidy by refusing to let her leave Tripoli,” said Nadya Khalife, the Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They should ensure that she can leave Tripoli at once to receive supportive medical and psychological care, following the trauma she experienced.”
On April 4, 2011, in two phone interviews with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, al-‘Obeidy confirmed that Libyan authorities had freed her after she was examined by a doctor. She told Cooper that the medical evidence supported her allegations that she had been raped and tortured. Al-‘Obeidy also told Cooper that men poured alcohol into her eyes and used rifles to sodomize her when she was detained at a checkpoint in Tripoli on March 26. She said that she had escaped when a woman who was detained with her untied her hands and feet while the soldiers were asleep.
On April 3, in a phone interview with Qanat Libya al Ahrar, a recently established satellite channel based in Qatar, al-‘Obeidy said that she wished to return to her family in the eastern city of Tobruk because she had received death threats from Libyan authorities and feared for her life. Al-‘Obeidy said that she had tried to leave Tripoli on three occasions since she first told journalists about the rape on March 26, but was stopped by government forces. She said that she believed that if she left her home, officials from the police or army would stop her.
“It’s very difficult for women in Libyan society to report that they have been raped because of the shame and fear they feel, and it has been even more difficult for al-‘Obeidy,” Khalife said. “But she has courageously ignored all these barriers to tell her story to the world.”
The Libyan penal code classifies sexual violence as a crime against women’s “honor.” This means that if a woman is raped, her reputation is threatened and she may be ostracized by her family and the community. This undermines the serious nature of the crime, Human Rights Watch said.
A 2006 Human Rights Watch report on violence against women and the use of social rehabilitation centers in Libya -“A Threat to Society?: The Arbitrary Detention of Women and Girls for ‘Social Rehabilitation'” – documented how inadequate laws and services left victims of sexual violence without an effective remedy and deterred women from reporting rape.
A high-level government official told Human Rights Watch in 2005 that only the most violent rape cases, typically those involving older men attacking minors, are criminally prosecuted. Most other cases are dealt with “socially,” through family arrangements such as coerced marriage, to avoid shaming the family.Libya has no shelters for victims of sexual violence, other than the government-run “social rehabilitation centers.” These facilities, far from providing adequate services to women following sexual violence, function as detention facilities. A woman is not permitted to leave a center unless a male relative is willing to take custody of her, or if she gets married. In some cases, women in the centers agree to marry a stranger in order to leave. Human Rights Watch noted that it is likely that the courts coerce many women into marriages with their attackers.
In 2005, Human Rights Watch documented serious human rights violations committed against women in these rehabilitation centers and urged the Libyan government to release all women who had not been charged with a crime.
“Instead of treating rape as a crime, seriously investigating cases, and punishing perpetrators, the Libyan authorities have again tried to silence brave women like al-‘Obeidy,” Khalife said.