ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has announced his intention to investigate mass rape as a weapon of war in Misrata, Libya during last year’s conflict. Recognizing the harsh physical punishments and cultural dishonor that Libyan women face when reporting sexual assault, Ocampo says he will craft an investigation that calls not upon victims but rather upon the eyewitness testimonies and medical records of doctors who treated rape survivors.
Stories that Qaddafi forces systematically raped civilians last year in Misrata are common, but proof is lacking. Chief Prosecutor Ocampo asserted last year that Qaddafi forces may have used Viagra to systematically rape women, but that claim has not been substantiated.
One Libyan obstetrician/gynecologist told PHR that because rape is a “difficult crime for female Libyan[s],” violated Libyan women were reluctant to report sexual assaults publicly.
Following its investigation into war crimes committed in Misrata last year, PHR published shocking testimonies that Qaddafi forces transformed an elementary school into a detention site where witnesses reported that women and girls as young as 14 years old were raped.
PHR also documented “honor killings” in response to these rapes, as in the case of a father who slit the throats of his three daughters upon learning that Qaddafi forces reportedly raped them repeatedly for days while holding them captive.
PHR applauds the ICC for using medical documentation and the authority of doctors who retain first-hand, forensic knowledge of government abuses to investigate these allegations.
Doctors speak when their patients cannot. When abuses are considered “culturally taboo” and are not discussed openly, strong human rights reporting rooted in medical evidence—alongside forceful international criminal investigations—takes on paramount importance for the victims.