GENEVA (Reuters) - Rape is still being used as a brutal weapon of war in conflicts worldwide including Libya to terrorise populations and often force civilians to flee, a United Nations expert charged Friday.
Most perpetrators go unpunished as sexual violence thrives in a climate of impunity where victims are denied justice or reparations, said Margot Wallstrom, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.
“Sexual violence has become a tactic of choice for armed groups, being cheaper, more destructive and easier to get away with than other methods of warfare,” she told a news briefing.
Wallstrom, making her first speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council since taking up the post in March 2010, called for all countries caught up in conflict to prevent such war crimes and prosecute soldiers or commanders under suspicion.
“Violence against women is no more permissible in times of war than it is in times of peace. And yet, in contemporary conflicts, women and girls are the primary targets of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war,” she told the forum.
Her office is drawing up a blacklist to ‘name and shame’ states who may be subject to Security Council sanctions, under a resolution adopted last December, according to Wallstrom.
It will probably start with Democratic Republic of the Congo, where at least 200,000 women and girls have been abused, although some estimates are 20 times that figure, she said.
In Liberia, which is recovering from 14 years of intermittent civil war in which rape was rampant, it is still the most reported crime, she said.
International Criminal Court investigators have evidence linking Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to a policy of raping opponents and may bring separate charges on the issue, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Wednesday.
Cherif Bassiouni, head of a U.N. rights inquiry which went to areas controlled by both rebels and Gaddafi, appeared to cast doubt on the ICC report Thursday, although his team’s report accused government forces of murder, torture and abduction.
Bassiouni said each side had accused the other of deploying fighters armed with impotency drugs to carry out rapes, creating what he called a “massive hysteria” in Libya.
His team uncovered only four alleged cases — Eman Al-Obaidi who claimed she was gang-raped by pro-government militiamen and three women in Misrata who said they had been sexually abused.
“Can we draw a conclusion that there is a systematic policy of rape? In my opinion we can’t,” Bassiouni said. “For the time being, the numbers are very limited.”
But Wallstrom, a former Swedish minister, said information collected by her office backed Moreno-Ocampo’s view. “Everything we see and hear reported points to that,” she told reporters.
“What we have is consistent reports from people, from organizations, from U.N. entities and others on the ground,” she added. “It is difficult to give you a figure, but this is part of the arsenal, the weaponry that Gaddafi’s troops use.”
Sharia-inspired laws in Libya and Sudan that can be used to punish a rape victim should be scrapped, Wallstrom said.
“I understand in their (Libyan) legislation for example, you could be flogged. Very often women who report rape can themselves be accused of adultery or risk this kind of punishment,” she said, adding that Sudan allows stoning.
Political leaders must ensure that laws are modern and women do not run a risk in just reporting a rape, she said.
“That is what they all have to look at so it is not stone-age legislation as well that will prevent women from actually coming forward. They will never get the reports on rape if this is the risk that women run.”
Editing by Jon Hemming