Human rights organisations have cast doubt on claims of mass rape and other abuses – perpetrated by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – which have been used repeatedly to justify Nato's war in Libya.
Nato leaders, opposition groups and the media have produced a stream of stories since the start of the insurrection on 15 February, claiming the Gaddafi regime ordered mass rapes, used foreign mercenaries and used gunships against protesters.
An investigation by Amnesty International failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.
The findings appear to be at odds with the views of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who said two weeks ago that "we have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government. Apparently he [Gaddafi] used it to punish people".
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was "deeply concerned" that Gaddafi's troops were participating in widespread rape.
"Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called 'virginity tests' have taken place in countries throughout the region," she said.
Donatella Rovera of Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, said: "We have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped." She stressed this does not prove that mass rape did not occur, but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, of Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said there was no evidence. Rebels have also claimed that mercenary troops from Central and West Africa have been used. But Amnesty found no evidence of this either.
Ms Rovera said: "Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries... were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents."
The Nato-led air campaign in Libya will cost the UK at least £260m if it continues for another three months, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday.