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Although Qaddafi has suppressed dissent among Libyans for decades, often brutally, the use of rape as a weapon appears to be a disturbing new dynamic, said Mr. Moreno-Ocampo. "It was never the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression. And that's why we had doubts at the beginning but now we are more convinced," he said, according to BBC News.
Bloomberg reports that the evidence of rape was turned up only recently, which is why the charge wasn't included in the ICC arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and Libyan security official Abdullah el-Sanussi. The rape charge may be added if ICC judges approve the arrest warrants.
It is unclear how many women may have been raped so far. Moreno-Ocampo told Agence France-Presse that they had reports of hundreds of rapes in some areas, but they were difficult to prove definitively.
Mercy Corps' Middle East director Nigel Pont said the stigma of rape prevents many women from coming forward. "The women who are the victims of these acts are very hesitant to speak about this," he said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“He decided to punish using rapes, which in the Libya tradition is really something very bad, beyond the limits,” Moreno-Ocampo said, according to Bloomberg.
Moreno-Ocampo said that the key question until recently was whether the rapes were being carried out under Qaddafi's orders or whether they were "something that happened in the barracks," not whether the rapes had occurred, according to Sky News.
The Libyan government denied the charges, The Tripoli Post reports. "It's the same old nonsense. We have always asked, time and again, for people to come on the ground and investigate all accusations against us," said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. "Unfortunately many people choose to accuse us cheaply of many many crimes and they refuse to come on the ground and investigate."
Iman al-Obeidi made international news in March when she told a group of journalists in Tripoli that she had been brutally raped by Qaddafi's forces. The Libyan government denied her accusations.
Libyan diplomat Mustafa Shaban blamed the media, Libyan opposition, and foreign mercenaries in the country for "widespread aggression" against the Libyan government and accused them of human rights violations and "acts of cannibalism," the AP reports. He promised to turn over evidence of his claims.
Whether the charges or arrest warrants will amount to anything is unclear – Libya does not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction. So as long as Qaddafi remains in Libya or another country that doesn't recognize the court (there are many, including many others on the African continent), he will remain a free man.