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‘For Gaddafi, rape was a weapon’

A French reporter has published a book of testimonies from women forced into former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s harem. France 24 interviewed the author about the ordeals the women endured and the problems they face in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

By Marc DAOU (text)


Young and beautiful, they were kidnapped, beaten, humiliated and raped by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.


Annick Cojean, a reporter for French daily Le Monde, has gathered testimonies from the women forced into Gaddafi’s harem and published them in a book entitled "Les Proies: Dans le harem de Kadhafi" (or "Prey: In Gaddafi’s Harem”).


The book recounts the experiences of these women, whose lives became a living nightmare after they had the misfortune of catching Gaddafi’s eye. One example is Soraya*, who became the Libyan tyrant’s sex slave at age 15.


“It was one of my most painful investigations,” Cojean confided.


FRANCE 24: Everyone knows Gaddafi as a tyrant, but few knew he was a serial rapist and had sex slaves. Tell us about this side of him.


Annick Cojean: Gaddafi had a harem of women kept in the basement of his residence, in little rooms or apartments. These women, obligated to appear before him in their underwear, could be called at any time of day or night. They were raped, beaten, subjected to the worst kinds of sexual humiliation. For Gaddafi, rape was a weapon … a way of dominating others -- women, obviously, because it was easy, but also men, by possessing their wives and daughters.


Similarly, he forced some of his ministers to have sex with him. He did the same with certain tribal chiefs, diplomats and military officials over whom he wanted to get the upper hand. We know that Gaddafi, who dreamed of being Africa’s “king of kings”, had sex with several wives and daughters of African heads of state. Of course, he didn’t rape them … but he lured them with piles of money or sumptuous jewels.


F24: In your book, you describe a network of multiple accomplices beyond Libyan territory. Do you think Gaddafi had anyone helping him recruit women during his official visits to Europe?


A.C.: When he left Libya for short periods, he was accompanied by part of his harem, notably Mabrouka Cherif, a woman who never left his side. She was in charge of supplying him with young women, and sometimes with young men.


When she came to Paris, her principal task was to recruit young women to take them back to Libya. During these Parisian missions, she stayed in a very prestigious hotel on the Champs-Elysées. An important French diplomat once told me that [Mabrouka] was “doing her shopping” in Paris, and that wouldn’t be possible without some help from the Libyan embassy. The French authorities must have known something, too, since the dictator’s barbaric ways were infamous in the West. But French officials were certainly not aware of everything, because most people didn’t know how violently Gaddafi treated these women.


F24: Soraya, the main figure in your investigation, says: "I’d love to build a life in the new Libya. I wonder if it’s possible.” What are things like in Libya now for the women you interviewed?


A.C.: For the moment, things are horribly difficult for her. She lives in hiding, she doesn’t dare leave home, she has cut off ties with her family, who are very ashamed of her. Some of her brothers would like to see her killed, and would be willing to do it themselves in order to purge their shame through an “honour killing”. Many people want to portray these women as guilty by association … but they never chose to be trapped, raped and sequestered. These women are currently terrorised at the thought of their painful secrets being revealed.


F24: How did you convince them to talk?


A.C.: I was extraordinarily lucky to meet these women, because very few of them want to talk. Soraya, notably, had the courage to confide in me, obviously under protection of anonymity.


These women so would have liked to see Gaddafi judged for his crimes one day. Soraya, for example, was angry, because she realised that with Gaddafi dead, she would be forced to keep quiet. Even in the new Libya. You can talk about all of Gaddafi’s crimes, all the bad things he did to political prisoners, but it’s pretty much forbidden to talk about what he did to women. Rape and anything having to do with sex is such a taboo in Libya. Consequently, these women would rather not talk, because they have everything to lose. That’s why an investigation like this is necessary: so that one day the guilty and their accomplices are punished.


*A pseudonym used in the book.

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