UN official, investigator at odds over Libya mass rape claim
A UN top official took offence Friday at a UN investigator's description of mass rape claims in Libya as mass hysteria and said it was important to take such allegations seriously.
"I think we should avoid such language. What does it stand for? Does it mean that media has reported repeatedly? Does this constitute hysteria?" asked Margot Wallstroem, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.
"This has been called history's greatest silence. For too long, it was not considered proper to mention rape and sexual violence. That's why it's so important to take it seriously," she added.
On Thursday, UN human rights investigator Cherif Bassiouni had expressed doubts over claims by the chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of evidence that Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi had ordered mass rapes.
Moreno-Ocampo had said Wednesday that there was evidence the Libyan authorities bought "Viagra-type" medicines and gave them to troops as part of the official rape policy.
Bassiouni, who led a team of investigators to Libya, said that his interpretation of the claim was that it was the result of a "massive hysteria."
A day later, Wallstroem spoke in defence of Moreno-Ocampo's claims, saying that there are "consistent reports from people, from organisations, from UN entities and others on the ground."
"The problem is very few women will actually come forward to report that they have been raped because it carries serious risks for them personally. So it will always be problematic to have an exact number of cases of rapes," she told journalists.
"It's difficult to give a figure, but this is part of the arsenal, the weaponry that the Kadhafi troops uses. This was confirmed also by the ICC prosecutor," she added.
Libyan women risk flogging and stoning if they reported rapes, and therefore, "we may only see the tip of the iceberg," she said.
© 2011 AFP