Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war

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 widely used 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 has ordered mass rapes, used foreign mercenaries and employed helicopters against civilian protesters.

An investigation by Amnesty International has failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on 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 by the investigators appear to be at odds with the views of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who two weeks ago told a press conference that "we have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government. Apparently he [Colonel 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 in Libya. "Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called 'virginity tests' have taken place in countries throughout the region," she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that "we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped".

She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: "We have not been able to find evidence."

In one instance two captured pro-Gaddafi soldiers presented to the international media by the rebels claimed their officers, and later themselves, had raped a family with four daughters. Ms Rovera says that when she and a colleague, both fluent in Arabic, interviewed the two detainees, one 17 years old and one 21, alone and in separate rooms, they changed their stories and gave differing accounts of what had happened. "They both said they had not participated in the rape and just heard about it," she said. "They told different stories about whether or not the girls' hands were tied, whether their parents were present and about how they were dressed."

Seemingly the strongest evidence for mass rape appeared to come from a Libyan psychologist, Dr Seham Sergewa, who says she distributed 70,000 questionnaires in rebel-controlled areas and along the Tunisian border, of which over 60,000 were returned. Some 259 women volunteered that they had been raped, of whom Dr Sergewa said she interviewed 140 victims.

Asked by Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's specialist on Libya, if it would be possible to meet any of these women, Dr Sergewa replied that "she had lost contact with them" and was unable to provide documentary evidence.

The accusation that Viagra had been distributed to Gaddafi's troops to encourage them to rape women in rebel areas first surfaced in March after Nato had destroyed tanks advancing on Benghazi. Ms Rovera says that rebels dealing with the foreign media in Benghazi started showing journalists packets of Viagra, claiming they came from burned-out tanks, though it is unclear why the packets were not charred.

Credible evidence of rape came when Eman al-Obeidy burst into a hotel in Tripoli on 26 March to tell journalists she had been gang-raped before being dragged away by the Libyan security services.

Rebels have repeatedly charged that mercenary troops from Central and West Africa have been used against them. The Amnesty investigation found there was no evidence for this. "Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released," says Ms Rovera. "Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents."

Others were not so lucky and were lynched or executed. Ms Rovera found two bodies of migrants in the Benghazi morgue and others were dumped on the outskirts of the city. She says: "The politicians kept talking about mercenaries, which inflamed public opinion and the myth has continued because they were released without publicity."

Nato intervention started on 19 March with air attacks to protect people in Benghazi from massacre by advancing pro-Gaddafi troops. There is no doubt that civilians did expect to be killed after threats of vengeance from Gaddafi. During the first days of the uprising in eastern Libya, security forces shot and killed demonstrators and people attending their funerals, but there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen.

Most of the fighting during the first days of the uprising was in Benghazi, where 100 to 110 people were killed, and the city of Baida to the east, where 59 to 64 were killed, says Amnesty. Most of these were probably protesters, though some may have obtained weapons.

Amateur videos show some captured Gaddafi supporters being shot dead and eight badly charred bodies were found in the remains of the military headquarters in Benghazi, which may be those of local boys who disappeared at that time.

There is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. Spent cartridges picked up after protesters were shot at came from Kalashnikovs or similar calibre weapons.

The Amnesty findings confirm a recent report by the authoritative International Crisis Group, which found that while the Gaddafi regime had a history of brutally repressing opponents, there was no question of "genocide".

The report adds that "much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime's security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge".

The rising cost of war

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.

The estimate stands in sharp contrast to the figures predicted by George Osborne in March, when the Chancellor said Britain's involvement would be likely to cost "tens of millions, not hundreds of millions" of pounds.

Mr Fox told Parliament that the projected cost was "in the region" of £120m, with an additional £140m bill to replace missiles and other weapons. He said attempts to minimise civilian casualties had led to a steeper bill.

Emily Fairbairn

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star