Warning: graphic information in this report may upset some readers
By Cécile Allegra
Male rape is being used systematically in Libya as an instrument of war and political domination by rival factions, according to multiple testimonies gathered by investigators.
Years of work by a Tunis-based group and witnessed by a journalist from Le Monde have produced harrowing reports from victims, and video footage showing men being sodomised by various objects, including rockets and broom handles.
In several instances, witnesses say a victim was thrown into a room with other prisoners, who were ordered to rape him or be killed.
The atrocity is being perpetrated to humiliate and neutralise opponents in the lawless, militia-dominated country. Male rape is such a taboo in Arab societies that the abused generally feel too damaged to rejoin political, military or civic life.
One man, Ahmed, told investigators he was detained for four years in a prison in Tomina, on the outskirts of Misrata.
“They separate you to subjugate you,” he said. “‘Subjugate the men’, that’s the expression that they use. So that you never hold your head up again. And they were filming everything with their phones.
“They take a broom and fix it on the wall. If you want to eat, you have to take off your pants, back on to the broom and not move off until the jailer sees blood flowing. Nobody can escape it.”
Ahmed said 450 men were being held in his part of the jail.
“There was a black man, a migrant. In the evening, they threw him into one of our cells: ‘You rape this guy, otherwise, you’re dead!’”
The Gaddafi regime was accused of using rape as an instrument of war during the 2011 revolution that unseated the dictator. Until now there has been no conclusive proof.
“Gaddafi loyalists raped during the revolution,” said one of the Tunis-based exiled Libyans, who wishes to be known only as Ramadan for security reasons. “Once they were defeated, they suffered the same violence.”
The hub of the investigation is a small office in Tunis, where Ramadan and his chief collaborator, a large man called Imed, have spent three years collating evidence.
In one video shown to this reporter, a young man is seen sitting in the sand with his head down, terrified. An arm in a military outfit lifts him up, pulls down his trousers, then his pants, and places a rocket launcher up to his buttocks. The camera turns away. Ramadan turns away. “Stop it, it’s sadistic!”
The video cannot be independently verified, and it’s impossible to identify the militia group or where the rape took place.
Imed travelled to Libya with this reporter this year to gather testimony. In southern Tripoli he met a colleague, Mouna, who has documented dozens of cases.
In one case, a former soldier loyal to Muammar Gaddafi said he was raped repeatedly. “With a broom handle fixed to a wall?” Imed asked.
Mouna nodded. “They were all raped like this.”
Further evidence emerged from a group of associates based in a small building near Tripoli. They handed Imed 650 files arranged in alphabetical order.
Many contained rape allegations made by people from the Tawergha, a black African tribe accused of once supporting Gaddafi, and of raping their enemies during the revolution.
They faced a terrible revenge. Their city, Tawergha, was razed and 35,000 inhabitants were scattered to several camps for internally displaced people in Benghazi and Tripoli.
In one camp, south of Tripoli, a man called Ali recounted his experience. He was 39 but looked 65 and walked with a cane.
“Some of us were locked in a room, naked, for a whole night with groups of migrants,” he said. “The guards did not release them until they had all raped each other. Fortunately, I didn’t go through that, I only got the stick and the wheel.”
The “wheel” involved being put naked and folded double, through a tyre suspended from the ceiling, making it easier for torturers to penetrate him with weaponry. Ali said he now had physical problems, “leaks” as he called them.
In another camp in southern Tripoli, Fathia said women were not immune. She said her entire family was violated by a militia from Misrata, with the men being deliberately targeted.
“They dragged me in the street, in front of everyone, saying: ‘You raped our girls. We’ll do the same thing to you.’
“The worst thing they did to me,” she whispered, “is to rape me in front of my eldest son. Since then, he won’t speak to me.”
Asked about other inmates who suffered a similar ordeal, Fathia said: “I only heard men’s voices. They were screaming, day and night.”
Last year, the international criminal court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, asked the UN security council for more funds to strengthen and expand her investigations into Libyan war crimes.
And on 15 August, the ICC issued an international arrest warrant for Cdr Mahmoud Al-Werfalli, a general accused of war crimes who is allied to Khalifa Haftar, the man who has controlled eastern Libya for years.
For the first time, videos posted on the internet showing summary executions allegedly committed by Werfalli have been admitted by the ICC as evidence.
In Tunis, the investigators were buoyed by this development: they now know their video testimonies will be legally valid if war crimes cases are brought against the perpetrators of the systematic rape.
They also expect more victims to come forward from clandestine jails in eastern Libya.
Top Photo: Ali in a camp for internally displaced people south of Tripoli.
Cécile Allegra contributed this report to Le Monde. It was shared with the Guardian as part of a series by Politiken, Le Monde, El País, La Stampa, Der Spiegel and the Guardian.