Gaddafi faces new ICC charges for using rape as weapon in conflict

The Guardian reports:

The chief prosecutor of the international criminal court (ICC) is likely to add rape to the war crimes charges against Muammar Gaddafi on the back of mounting evidence that sexual attacks on women are being used as a weapon in the Libyan conflict.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters at the UN in New York last night there were strong indications that hundreds of women had been raped in the Libyan government clampdown on the popular uprising and that Gaddafi had ordered the violations as a form of punishment.

The prosecutor said there was even evidence that the government had been handing out doses of Viagra to soldiers to encourage sexual attacks. Moreno-Ocampo said rape was a new tactic for the Libyan regime. “That’s why we had doubts at the beginning, but now we are more convinced. Apparently, [Gaddafi] decided to punish, using rape.”

The move came as Gaddafi’s forces responded to Nato’s intensified aerial bombardment of Tripoli on Tuesday by launching a heavy attack on rebel positions outside the liberated city of Misrata, unleashing a barrage of Grad rockets and mortars against rebel positions to the east, west and south of Misrata early on Wednesday morning, and followed up with an infantry assault. The Hikma hospital reported at least 10 rebel fighters died and 26 were wounded.

Reuters reports:

“We are all happy when NATO bombs like that,” the taxi driver said on Wednesday, the morning after the heaviest Western air strikes on the Libyan capital.

“Everyone here has rebel flags at home, just waiting for the day when the rebels finally reach the outskirts of the city, when we will pour out into the streets.”

Muammar Gaddafi remains in firm control of Tripoli after crushing protests in February.

But NATO bombardment, fuel shortages, defections of top officials and slow but important rebel advances on the battlefield are tightening the noose around the Libyan leader.

Alone in their shops and cars, out of earshot of the feared secret police and their informants, Tripoli residents are about as likely to express support for the government as opposition.

Supporters are passionate, even in private. But it is the opponents who speak with more confidence about the future.

Dissent is still mostly furtive. In the Ben Ashour district, one man said police had interrogated every employee at a shopping center after activists planted a small rebel flag on top of it.

Pro-Gaddafi graffiti is sprayed throughout the city. But nearly as common, especially in outlying districts, are blotches where government supporters have painted over anti-government messages scrawled at night.

Pro-government graffiti is sometimes defaced, with the leader’s name scribbled out in the common slogan “God, Muammar, Libya and that’s all!”

Reuters reports:

To get an idea of who might wield influence in post-civil war Libya, take a look at the flags flying in the rebel-held east of the country.

Outside the courthouse in Benghazi — rebel headquarters and symbolic heart of the uprising against the 41-year rule of leader Muammar Gaddafi — fly the flags of France, Great Britain, the United States, the European Union, NATO. There’s one other flag, too: Qatar’s.

“Qatar, really, it’s time to convey our gratitude to them,” Abdulla Shamia, rebel economy chief, told Reuters. “They really helped us a lot. It’s a channel for transportation, for help, for everything.”

It has a population of just 1.7 million people, but the wealthy Gulf monarchy has long sought a major voice in political affairs in the region. It has brokered peace talks in Sudan and Lebanon, owns the influential pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, and recently won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup. Now the gas-rich nation has placed a big geopolitical bet in Libya, splashing out hundreds of millions of dollars on fuel, food and cash transfers for the rebels.

A representative from the Emir’s palace declined to comment on what products Qatar has delivered to Libya, and on the ruling family’s motivations behind its Libyan engagement.

It’s certainly a gamble. If the rebels win, Qatar is likely to pick up energy deals and new influence in North Africa. But if they lose, Qatar’s ambitions may further alienate it among its neighbours.

“I guess ever since the late 1990s, Qatar has been trying to break the Saudi-dominated status quo and carve out a niche position,” said Saket Vemprala from the London-based Business Monitor International consultancy.

“At the moment I think it’s more geopolitical, they want to broaden their (influence in the) region and become a more significant player … And it certainly makes it easy for them to portray themselves as being on the right side of history,” he said.

That sentiment is on display on a huge billboard in front of the courthouse. Over a picture of Qatari ruler Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani reads the promise: “Qatar, history will always remember your support for our cause.”

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