As the world marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Libyan National Congress should adopt a law recognising victims of rape during the conflict as victims of war crimes. The adoption of this law represents an opportunity to recognise the gravity of these offences and to provide some redress to victims.
A draft law was circulated by the Libyan Ministry of Justice in June 2013 and has been approved by the Justice Commission. The bill is now awaiting consideration by the General National Congress but has yet to be placed on the parliamentary body’s agenda. “The adoption of this law would be a ground-breaking step towards recognizing victims of rape as war victims on an equal footing with victims of torture and other war crimes. The recognition, justice and reparation provided by the law is crucial for victims and the reconstruction of Libya”, stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.
The text provides for victims of rape during the conflict to receive appropriate forms of reparation. Under the draft law, victims would receive compensation and health care. They are also to be granted training, education and employment opportunities and access to housing. The bill provides for the state to establish shelters for those who have been rejected by their families and for victims to receive legal support in bringing perpetrators to justice. Benefits are also to be provided to the families of victims and children born following rape. A Committee will be tasked to determine the beneficiaries of the law.
The law requires adjustments to ensure effective implementation but its adoption would contribute to breaking the silence surrounding crimes of sexual violence in Libya. “Victims of rape rarely dare to speak out for fear of stigmatisation and reprisal. The draft law’s adoption would undoubtedly be a major step towards putting the blame on the criminal rather than the victim”, said Elham Saudi, Director, Lawyers for Justice in Libya.
During the conflict, FIDH and the Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD) interviewed tens of women from Libya who had sought temporary refuge in Tunisia. They reported that victims of rape risked being killed by male family members to “wash away” family dishonour. Some men were ready to kill their wives or daughters before leaving to fight, to avoid the risk of them being raped.
There is currently no accountability for these crimes and little support was made available by the State for victims of sexual violence. They have to rely on civil society to get assistance. Organisations, such as the Observatory for Gender in Crisis provide them with medical, psychological and legal assistance and facilitate their reintegration into society. In addition, the fear of being identified as a victim of rape means that few seek the support to which they are entitled. Libyan NGOs have called on the government to adopt tougher sentences for perpetrators as well as logistical and financial support for NGOs who provide assistance to victims, but no such measures have so far been taken.
FIDH, Lawyers for Justice in Libya and the Observatory for Gender in Crisis call on Libyan authorities to seize the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to pass this law on rape in conflict and to affirm their commitment to protecting women from violence in accordance with their international obligations. The Libyan authorities should also adopt the measures necessary to ensure that all forms of violence against women are criminalised, in times of conflict and post-conflict, that such crimes are effectively investigated and prosecuted and that all victims receive appropriate support.