April 7, 2011

Eman al-Obeidi's first on-camera interview with CNN's Nic Robertson is seen above.

(CNN) -- When Eman al-Obeidy approached journalists last week at Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, she did more than accuse Moammar Gadhafi's men of rape.

She also became the face of the anti-Gadhafi movement.

Since the highly publicized incident, which ended with a hysterical al-Obeidy being whisked away by government minders, the 29-year-old lawyer from Tobruk has been celebrated as a symbol of Libyan defiance.

"Many Libyans I know online on social media are holding up Eman al-Obeidy as a hero," said Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born journalist who writes columns on Arab and Muslim issues. "And many people across the region -- Egyptians, Syrians -- (are) demanding to know where she is and fearing for her life."

Kelly Askin, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, lays out the case against the Gadhafi regime.

(CNN) -- The raw courage demonstrated by Eman al-Obeidy in persisting in telling her story of alleged repeated gang rape and torture in Libya is helping to change the dialogue in Libya and the Middle East about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of repression.

Since Obeidy burst into a hotel filled with journalists last week and told them of being raped by loyalist militia, Gadhafi supporters have deployed a range of vile tactics in a bid to undermine her that are painfully familiar. They called her a drunk, a prostitute, a pornographer, a liar, mentally unstable -- impugning her honor and that of her family.

When those tactics failed, they implied it was all somehow her fault, claiming she was scheduled to meet one of the men she says attacked her. Others threatened to sue her.

They are no doubt frustrated and surprised that the ways commonly used to silence women have not silenced Obeidy, who has been tenacious in her desire to tell her story. She is fortunate that her family is supporting her, reportedly rejecting offers of money, property or security if they would only denounce her.

In other cases, survivors of such treatment in this region of the world have found themselves shunned by their families and communities because of the resulting social stigma.


Last month, the U.N. Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court, which is now investigating reports of attacks on civilians and other violations of international law.

If Gadhafi and his supporters are found to be responsible for not only failing to protect women like Obeidy, but also for policies that explicitly or tacitly encouraged, or simply ignored, the use of rape warfare, she could find herself receiving some measure of justice for the heinous crimes allegedly committed against her.

New York artist Louisa Bertman with an even more graphic and disturbing assessment of the crimes of Gadhafi.

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