Libya Set to Pay Reparations to Victims of Rape as a War Crime

Libya's Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani speaks during a news conference in Benghazi May 10, 2014. Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

A decree issued Wednesday in Libya would recognize rape committed during that country's revolution as a war crime and pay rape survivors reparations, according to two sources who have worked closely with the Libyan government in developing the policy.

An initial decree issued in February sought to recognize the mass rapes perpetrated during the 2011 revolution as war crimes, but it required congressional approval to move forward. The new decree, however, bypasses Libya's congress and establishes a commission to begin evaluating who will be given the financial and medical support, and the scope of the reparations to be provided, according to war crimes lawyer Céline Bardet, who reviewed the policy drafted by Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani.

The new decree also makes all rape victims under Qaddafi's regime eligible for the compensation, not just people who were raped during the 2011 uprising, Bardet tells Newsweek.

Newsweek was not immediately able to verify details of the decree with the Libyan government.

Following the uprising that toppled the regime, former fighters who suffered war crimes became entitled to compensation. The International Criminal Court says it gathered evidence that Qaddafi's forces systematically raped men and women during the uprising, and a U.S. envoy in Libya said that soldiers in Qaddafi's army were issued Viagra with the express purpose of raping women. Yet rape was not classified as a war crime for the purposes of reparations, until now.

Souad Wheidi, a Libyan and the head of the human rights nongovernmental organization Observatory of Gender in Crisis, says her group has been pushing for three years for this policy. She and her colleagues have video testimony from women who were raped during the uprising. She says the videos will help the women obtain reparations once the commission is established and will prevent the women from having to be retraumatized by telling their stories over and over for government officials.

"And it will also be an archive, to preserve the memory of the suffering, like Shoah," Wheidi said, referring to the Shoah Foundation, which developed a vast archive of interviews with Holocaust survivors. "Nobody can imagine what happened, nobody. It was more horrible than anyone can believe."

Wheidi says that soldiers would film each other raping women and send the videos to anti-Qaddafi forces. She recounted stories of women who were raped and then sent to prison for protesting against Qaddafi, where they were raped again, repeatedly. "Being a victim of rape in conflict is something so different. All rape is of course horrible, but in war, it is something else. The [mass rapes] were so new in our country—we were so shocked."

Newsweek spoke with Wheidi in London, where she was attending a global summit on sexual violence in conflict.

"This victory in Libya is a very big victory for humanity. But there has to be a paradigm shift," Wheidi says, near tears. "Why do we use the woman's body as a place to wage war? Humanity has to take this seriously."

Correction: This article has been changed to clarify Céline Bardet's role in the policy.