Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obeidi is standing up for her rights against taboos. We must stand with her.

Today, the international media has been reporting the disturbing news that Iman al-Obeidi is facing criminal charges in Libya. Obeidi’s sole offence appears to have been speaking out about her alleged gang rape by 15 of Gaddafi’s soldiers.

Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel hosting western reporters on Saturday, desperately announcing that she had been raped repeatedly by government militiamen. She held up her abaya to show injuries to her right leg.

She was immediately silenced by hotel staff and security, bundled into a car and taken hostage at a government complex. A government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, contradicted himself continually, initially announcing that Obeidi was not to be trusted, as she was drunk and delusional. Later that day, he said she was sober and sane, but the following day called her a prostitute and a thief.

Although some reports say that she was released late on Monday, the latest stories carried by international media say that the men she accused of rape have filed a case against her.

Spokesman Ibrahim said: “The boys who she accused of rape are bringing a case because it is a very grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual crime.” This statement shows no recognition that it is in fact a greater offense to commit a sexual crime.

In Libyan culture it is unusual for a woman to speak out against sexual abuse, as any woman who is raped is considered by many to have lost her honour. Obeidi is being held up as a heroine by the opposition for breaking taboos and having the self-confidence to stand up for her rights.

Rape is too often used as a weapon in situations of conflict. Obeidi claims that the men stopped her at a road block and raped her because she is from Benghazi, which is the stronghold of the opposition. In innumerable conflicts, men have abused women of the other ethnic or political groups to express their dominance over the opposition. Women’s bodies are used as pawns, their rights disrespected and their lives scarred. Obeidi is a symbol of strength in the face of this ongoing tyranny, speaking out to show that rape cannot be tolerated or ignored.

Instead of backing claims filed against her, the Libyan government should be ensuring that Obeidi is properly medically cared for, and that a thorough investigation into this case is carried out. Additionally, in every conflict situation there should be mechanisms to ensure that cases of rape are kept to a minimum, all cases are reported and that any women subjected to rape are properly cared for. Legally-binding resolutions such as UNSCR 1820, issued by the UN Security Council, demand an end to sexual violence in situations of armed conflict. All governments, both Libyan and any intervening forces, are therefore obligated to take action to prosecute rape cases and to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken to reduce rape, such as enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures, upholding the principle of command responsibility, debunking myths that fuel sexual violence, vetting armed and security forces to take into account past actions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, and evacuation of women and children under imminent threat of sexual violence to safety.

One of the clearest ways to prevent soldiers using rape as a weapon is to show that their actions will have consequences. Currently, the Libyan government is not reinforcing that lesson. Women without Borders condemns all forms of sexual violence. We call on the Libyan government to ensure that Obeidi is given fair treatment before the law, and to ensure that all soldiers of both sides know that sexual violence of any form and towards any individual will not be tolerated.

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