Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been dead for a year, but his legacy of abuse and corruption remains.
From early on during the revolution against him, reports began to surface that the leader’s victims even included his female bodyguards.
Among the challenges for Libyan society, as it seeks to build lasting stability based on a rule of law, will be addressing how women were raped by Gaddafi.
When he travelled outside Libya, notably after he renounced decades of supporting anti-western terrorists, governments interested in oil contracts may have ignored their guest’s practices.
There were few high-level calls to have him made persona non grata, no matter how he behaved.
He told a conference of businesswomen in Rome that their gender in Europe were not emancipated of their own free will but because they were forced.
Accumulating testimony today suggests Gaddafi brutally applied his demeaning views.
Gaddafi even had an agency in Rome provide a couple of hundred fashion models to listen to his views on Islam.
Only when he was retreating in the face of armed rebellion in Libya, did women begin to denounce Gaddafi as a sexual criminal, trafficking them like objects.
In March 2011 came one of the first, screaming to international journalists in a hotel that she had been raped by Gaddafi’s troops.
After the leader’s death, women called on a new government to help all those who had been raped by Gaddafi’s forces. Yet the practice goes back many years, and the protection of the vulnerable still has a long way to go, rights groups say.
Gaddafi ruled for over four decades, as American diplomat Susan Rice said at the UN, “by grossly and systematically violating his own people’s human rights”.
A senior journalist with the French newspaper Le Monde has just published a book entitled ‘Prey: In Gaddafi’s Harem’. We spoke to Annick Cojean about her findings.
Sophie Mandrillon, Euronews:
Muammar Gaddafi was well-known as a tyrant but less-known as a serial rapist and sexual predator. You talk about how the former Libyan leader kidnapped, humiliated and raped hundreds of young girls, and men also. Tell us how you began this investigation.
I went to Libya in October 2011 to see what was happening at the end of the revolution. Gaddafi hadn’t been found yet. He was actually found and captured and died the day after I arrived in Libya. I really wanted to meet women, know what they had done during the revolution, know how they had suffered. And I wanted to know how they had been portrayed. We had seen the Tunisians and the Egyptians in interviews, all full of fight, but nothing on Libyan women.
How did you meet Soraya? She was abducted when she was 14, and her testimony is central. She dares to say the things that everyone knew but was silent about and still is.
I met this young girl when I was finding out about the rapes during the revolution. I really meet this girl by chance, and she tells me she was raped by Gaddafi for five years. She said she had become his sex slave. She didn’t dare use this word but I do. She was taken at school. One day the master of the country, the ‘Guide’, announced he was coming to the school. She was chosen from out of the prettiest girls to offer him a bouquet of flowers. When the Guide arrived, she gave him the flowers, he took her hand in a strange kind of way, looked her up and down in a very cold way from behind those dark glasses of his, and he put his hand on her head. She learned a lot later that this was a sign to his body guards: ‘I want this one.’ The next day, three women came to her house to talk with her parents – the car came straight from the barracks Gaddafi stayed in when he was in Sirte. It was a protocol car with his flags on it. Obviously, the young girl left with the three women and the chauffeur. She was completely terrified. There was a blood test, as happened systematically. Gaddafi had this entourage of Ukrainian nurses who were there to test all his prey. And then she was pushed into Gaddafi’s bedroom, naked, and he caught her and raped and beat her.
Soraya’s story as a terrifying example of how Gaddafi used sex as a system of domination, with his scouts and cases of diamonds. He struck in Libya but not only there.
Yes, I think a lot of diplomats knew. It’s highly unlikely they knew how far the system went, or perhaps how seriously, or how barbaric Gaddafi was. But it was known he was a predator. Someone in the French foreign ministry told me, “Yes, of course.” When the Madame in charge, who was always behind Gaddafi, and who was received in diplomatic meetings of the highest level… she was always there. Her name was Mabrouka Chérif. She is actually still in Libya. Her house is under surveillance but she is relatively free to move around. When this woman came, she was followed by the French secret services, and a very important French diplomat told me: “We knew very well she was doing her shopping.” I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly. ‘Shopping’ meant she came to recruit young girls who would then systematically leave for Tripoli, for the bedroom of the Guide of Libya.
How is Soraya today?
Not very well, like most of the women who were taken at a very vulnerable age and who were trained in Gaddafi’s jails. It’s very complicated. It’s very complicated. They were part of Gaddafi’s inner circle, they wore a uniform, and for many of the revolutionaries they surrounded the Guide and so are objects of strong suspicion. That is why I have written this book. Above all, they are victims.