last edits Aug 24
It seems the rebels recently made good on their promises to help Tawergha's people "liberate themselves," or alternately to leave en mass and/or be "purged" as "slaves, black-skin." It was the latter that came to be, it seems, but not as horrific as it might have been feared, from the little we've been able to see and learn (a separate post on this is coming). Misratans say they sleep easier with a threat removed, but the cost was high - admitting they could only free some cities "for the people" by clearing them of their people.
The main point of this post is one of the reasons they gave why they had to do this. Most prominently, and probably true, is the rebel accusation of government rocket attacks from Tawergha, killing innocents in their homes as well as combatants trying to overthrow the government. There was also the reported, and logical, action of Tawergha natives among the fighters they've had to deal with to keep their stolen city.
But among the most volatile charges, given what we know of the racism in the rebel ranks, is that the black-skinned inhabitants of Tawergha have been employed by the regime to go into Misrata and surrounding areas and rape their women in large numbers, and often by large numbers.
When you see that allegation repeated about, remember that it almost surely refers to the only known evidence, explained and analyzed below.
Rape Parties in Misrata
(This is the section I added on May 23 to the big post "Rape allegations ganging up on Gaddafi.")
New allegations from the BBC's Andrew Harding of mass rape come from two young black men captured in Misrata. They confess in some detail to being forced into a huge cue to rape some young rebel women.
Was there a systematic campaign of rape by forces loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during the battle for Misrata?Indeed, on all three counts. However, Mr. Harding says "my impression was that the men were telling the truth," and he passes that on. In part:
Two young prisoners in a detention centre in the city tell me the answer is almost certainly "yes", and that they took part in the gang-rape of four women.
The men, aged 17 and 21, are sitting on a sofa - heads bowed - in the same filthy, bloodstained army fatigues they were captured in two weeks ago.
They are obviously nervous, but speak clearly.
The authorities in this rebel-held city were reluctant to let us interview them, but finally agreed on condition we do not reveal the soldiers' names.
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that it is clearly in the rebels' interest to portray Col Gaddafi's forces in the worst possible light.
It is also possible that the soldiers were coerced into telling us lies.
And there is a big difference between individual acts of violence committed during wartime and a systematic campaign to target civilians.
"The mother was screaming and when we pointed the gun at her, she stopped screaming.
"Then we tied up the mother and father and their boys [three of them] by their feet and hands. Then we shot every one of them in the leg.
"There were four girls aged between about 20 and 24. They were conscious [during the rapes]. I raped one.Nice infidel behavior mixed in - again, the rebels and their Arab patrons want us to know the battle is between God and Gaddafi. Note the assertion of no nervousness when Harding said they were "obviously nervous." The last part is interesting: these black men (mercifully called "soldiers" and not "African mercenaries") did this on evil regime orders, not from their own wild African lusts. That allows them to use these guys as propaganda without having a lynch mob to appease or oppose. And it helps soften the rebel camp's previous, well-earned reputation for being horrible racists who use black men's lives like dirt to score cheap political points.
"The girls said nothing. They were tired and they were in bad shape because there were 20 officers before us. It happened in the morning, and lasted about an hour and a half. The officers brought in a music system and listened to pop music, and smoked and danced during the rapes.
"I'm not happy with what I did but I don't feel nervous or frightened now, and I want to emphasise that the officers forced us to rape.
A few more bad signs, and I thanks Mr. Harding for gathering details with this report:
"They told us that if you rape any girls, we will give you money and we got 10 dinars [$8, £5] each afterwards.Dr. Fortia is quoted at length, and again, the social taboo against reporting rape is cited. [to add: I know of no taboo about having your sister raped while you were shot in the leg, and no one's reported that either]. Another obvious reason [for a lack of reports] is that these paid for, regime-forced, disco-dancing, smoking and probably drinking, bragged-about-on-the-radio, mass rape parties didn't actually happen.
"This was my first time to have sex. I have four sisters at home."
I asked the men if they knew of other instances of rape, and whether it happened often.
"I think it happened so many times. Most of the people who raped families here were from the special forces and we heard on the radio [their military radio system] that there were about 50 families that experienced rape."
The rebel authorities in Misrata say they believe there may be hundreds of victims, but so far no-one has made an official complaint. There are many possible reasons for this.
A Professional Agrees
Only later did I see, prominently run in the UK Independent in late June, a confirmation of my suspicions from one of Amnesty International's top experts on the subject. She doesn't specify the case she cites is from Misrata, but it's clearly in reference to the same Tawergha kids cited by Mr. Harding.
...Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that "we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped".In Misrata and nationwide, there is no evidence that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war, but it's plainly evident the rebels used the allegation of rape in their information war. The racist and perhaps brutal aspects of the fall of Tawergha, among many other episodes over the last half a year in Libya, will sometimes show its deadly consequences.
She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: "We have not been able to find evidence."
In one instance two captured pro-Gaddafi soldiers presented to the international media by the rebels claimed their officers, and later themselves, had raped a family with four daughters. Ms Rovera says that when she and a colleague, both fluent in Arabic, interviewed the two detainees, one 17 years old and one 21, alone and in separate rooms, they changed their stories and gave differing accounts of what had happened. "They both said they had not participated in the rape and just heard about it," she said. "They told different stories about whether or not the girls' hands were tied, whether their parents were present and about how they were dressed."
From Both Sides
Also in June, a top UN investigator who'd just been to Libya finding facts dismissed the broad sweep of rape charges, if not each and every one, as the product of a "massive hysteria," M. Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born UN human rights investigator of high repute, panned the separate "Viagra" claims thusly:
"[rebel sources told me] we arrested or found bodies of people dead with Viagra pills and contraceptives on them. So we go over to Tripoli and we sit with 30 NGO’s and guess what the same story comes up. This time it’s the government people who are telling us you know what the opponents have a policy of rape and we have discovered that they are giving out contraceptives and Viagra pills and so I told them this is exactly what the other side told us and I communicated to both and I said what it is, at least my interpretation of it is, when the information spread out and the society felt so vulnerable it created a massive hysteria.”The same both-sides hysteria comes across with Misrata rape parties. We've seen the rebel version, and as for the government's - well, it's worse yet. As I mentioned in passing at the post Rebel Atrocity Videos, the Libyan government, legitimate and beseiged as it is, implausibly claims rebels there have raped loyalist women in mass, mothers and daughters together, and slaughtered them, slicing off their breats, and having festive dinner parties with the trophies laid on the table (see here for the video and transcript of a confession). Is it alright if, like Bassioumi on the Viagra claims, I reject both versions of the Mirata rape party phenomenon?
The only known basis for the claim of systematic rape of Misratans by Tawerghans was the two youths who swore they took part. But if their stories didn't match, were internally inconsistent, too convenient, too implausible, and possibly coerced, we can say there's a damn good chance they were just coerced.
This means someone was going out of their way to consciously create such a fiction against a city they already had reason to take out. Someone decided to fill the fighters' hearts with hateful images of black men raping their family before going into battle against them. Is it right, legal, or ethical to pump your fighters up in this way before "purging" a whole city? Might that not lead to abuses of the kind that seem to have happened in the shadows of the fall and purge of Tawergha?
And of course, via Mr. Harding and the credulous media at large, they sought to explain to the world - with this same fiction - why their final solution for their southern neighbors was justified.