A new unprecedented constitutional decree in Libya is recognizing the use of rape as a weapon in the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The decree deems rape survivors as “official war victims” and offers women rape survivors compensation that is the same entitlement offered to former soldiers.
In 2011 the International Criminal Court collected evidence that Gaddafi ordered military forces to use sexual violence against women during the uprisings. There are also separate allegations that Gaddafi and his sons raped their female bodyguards. While the exact number of sexual violence cases remains unknown, estimates indicate that hundreds of women were raped during the uprisings.
In an unparalleled judicial decision, the new decree will move to the Libyan National Congress to become passed into law. The decree will include provisions for financial assistance and physical and psychological health care for rape survivors. Given the traditional silencing of rape in North Africa, this law is considered a crucial step towards breaking down stigma attributed to the reporting of sexual violence. Amnesty International has noted that pre-Revolution, rape survivors in Libya were often forced to marry their perpetrators or imprisoned.
Speaking to the Agence France Presse, Souhayr Belhassan, honorary chairwoman of the International Federation of Human Rights, stated that “this law has been awaited by thousands of women in Libya”.
Women across the country have worked to support rape survivors and to demand justice. One Libyan woman (name withheld), partnered with Amica, a German aid organization, to open secret rape crisis centres across Western Libya in October 2011 which continue to help survivors. Women’s organizations in Libya are applauding the Ministry of Justice and will continue to lobby for the expedited passing of the law.