Troubles from Libya raise human rights issues

Regina Budden / Washburn Review

On March 26, a young Libyan woman named Iman Al-Obeidi burst into a hotel filled with international journalists and screamed that members of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops had abducted and raped her.

Security grabbed her, covered her head with a jacket and whisked her away to Tripoli for imprisonment—in full sight of camera crews from around the world.

Now Al-Obeidi is reported to be staying with her sister in Tripoli, trying to simultaneously avoid government troops and contact foreign news services to tell her story.  Her family told CNN that she is a law student. Her government broadcast that she is a mentally unstable alcoholic with a history of prostitution and theft.

In the United States, some have called for her to be given asylum on our continent. Others have criticized that this is a propaganda move by rebels who seek international attention. Al-Obeidi just claims that she seeks for the world to know the truth about what is happening in her country. The way she describes it…it’s just very harrowing.

Now there are two parts of this whole incident that make me, as a woman journalist, angry enough to do something totally irrational.

As a woman, the idea of her being raped is abhorrent, period. To fathom that her government would try to cover it up by painting her as a prostitute and thief is worse. To think that her being a prostitute and thief would even matter is also pretty sickening. I’m not condoning prostitution or theft, both are societal wrongs. However, as a woman and as a person, I have to speak out against anyone attempting to justify or even endorse rape. No matter who the victim is, rape is something that is never excusable. Ever.

Aside from this is also the fact that Al-Obeidi went to a roomful of journalists to speak out about having been kidnapped and raped by her own government and, aside from a few men who bounced off of the security guards, was allowed to be hauled off by the government again.

I understand that in territory like Libya where the leadership doesn’t play by the rules, one has to fear for ones safety. However, this also calls into question the ethics of “journalistic ethics.” By staying out of the way and merely reporting as the government re-abducted Al-Obeidi, the journalists did exactly what their pledge says is right.

But was it really right? Can it really be considered ethical to stand by and just be “objective” as violence is being enacted on another human being?

I don’t want to move this to the political arena or use Al-Obeidi as a poster child for the anti-Gaddafi movement, but on an individual level her case brings up several issues of human rights on the international scale.