“When you rape the men, you eliminate the political class”. What is happening in Libya is probably one of the worst Crimes against Humanity since WW2. Her earlier films, hardly known in the English-speaking world, expose the hypocrisy of Fortress Europe, desperate to stop immigration and hide the true situation.
Her two previous films dealt with the growing ‘industry’ of trafficking that moved from the Sinai desert (“Under the skin”, 2014) to Libya, where it began before Ghaddafi’s fall in 2013. 12,000 people have died in the Sinai camps alone.
Cecile changed the title of her film about Libya –“Libya unspeakable crime”– because she found it ‘lenient’. “Rape them all, is the order given by torturers when they commit the crime, it’s barbaric, it’s violent, it is exactly what this never-investigated crime is: a black hole”.
In “Rape them all”, witnesses tell of prisoners queueing for food being forced to penetrate themselves one after another, on a piece of wood, fixed to a wall. They are told: “we want to see blood, or you won’t eat”.
Injuries require surgery, diseases are transmitted. Most victims are young Africans, with no intention of coming to Europe who were kidnapped by traffickers as valuable ‘goods’ to sell.
Activists based in Tunis collect witness accounts from survivors of torture, and make a risky journey into Libya, accompanied by Celine Bardet an international lawyer, who worked on mass rape in Bosnia.
Cecile talks to The Prisma about the issues raised in these films on migrant-trafficking – the relentlessly maintained curtain of silence, and the failures of journalism.
The torturers rely on a culture of shame. Fatima said: “For us it is not like it is for westerners”
Silence is key in committing mass rape. There are movements for change within the culture, but this is a war situation.
If Western leaders do not address rape used as a weapon of war, they cannot build a peace process. Tunisia has a big problem with the systematic rape of political prisoners in jails, which they have addressed through the Truth and Dignity Commission.
Mass rape is a tool for those in power. It was used by the Italians when they colonized Libya in 1911. The moment the film was released, we got calls from Lebanon, saying it happened at the Sabra and Shatila camps in 1982, but nobody talked about it.
When you rape the men, you eliminate the political class, because someone who is raped knows who did it, and will always be afraid of being exposed: a man who has been raped is turned into an ‘under-man’.
Forcing black prisoners to rape Arabs humiliates both ethnic groups?
It’s a very specific use of physical rape beyond rape with instruments.
It’s an “added humiliating value” that contributes to annihilating a man’s “honour”.
“Libya is not just an oil well – we are people” – how do victims view Western governments?
As enemies. They constantly told me something that should make us think: “Imagine that you live in a country criss-crossed by drones, invaded by 20,000 Turkish, Syrian mercenaries, and special forces from all over the world… do you think we can achieve a peace process in these conditions?”
How effective is the ICC?
These extremely sensitive cases are more likely to be brought by small NGOs with international lawyers working pro bono. No western country has a real interest in addressing this crime.
And it is difficult to classify as a Crime against Humanity: it has new elements.
Migrants come from a variety of countries, the kidnappers and traffickers from other countries, the torturers include free-lancers from the desert.
A failure of international organizations?
We are accomplices to a massive crime, that sends thousands of innocent young people from across Africa to places where they meet their death. They cannot be called migrants, they are human rights survivors.
Racism affects thousands of Tawarga in Libya, who are descendants of slaves. Have your films helped?
The Tawarga were not aware that they were part of a global racism problem. Probably, there is an intention to eradicate Tawargas from Libya, but nobody is investigating. Following this film, some of them got protection from international organizations.
“Under the Skin” shows how migrants are treated as commodities to be traded. This ‘trader’ talks about the ‘good investments’ he made buying shops and hotels, while saying he has no choice. How did you manage to interview him?
It took months to get in touch with this chief trafficker. It was clear that he was not the only one involved.
Young people fleeing Eritrea were being sold to him directly by Eritrean police officers. He said the French government would not interfere because there was a sale of Rafale planes going on. He was very well informed and perfectly aware that he was part of the global problem.
Evidence was presented to the UN that some Eritrean dignitaries were selling their people directly to the traffickers. If this was proved, it would be the first case of sub-contracting a system of repression to another country.
People are tortured while their family is on a mobile phone, to pressure them to pay up?
It’s simply business. In Sinai, the trafficker told me clearly: “In order for two families to pay, I have to kill one person … one in three has to die or I won’t get my money back”.
Like the slave trade in the 18 – 19th Century…
This is an important historical moment, re-visiting our colonial history, but we have just re-named slavery: the trafficking has been transferred to private groups and militias, who always work according to the economic interests of European or African countries.
We call traffickers ‘mafias’, but we arm Libyan coastguards to return those migrants so that we can support the guy who has control of the oil.
There are 20,000 mercenaries in Libya, and a huge variety of special forces. I came across Koreans, not under UN control, special forces, walking around openly. Libya has been invaded by foreign powers, but not to help the hundreds of thousands of trafficked people imprisoned there by militias.
Those young people, as you saw in “Songs for the living”, always ask: “Why did they do this to me?” Most of them never decided where they wanted to go, anywhere to escape the conditions in their own country. And then they get kidnapped and deported.
The media have failed…
I have been a journalist for a long time, I am a film-maker, now I am a HR militant. Why? Because the media are not powerful enough for this kind of story. Nobody wants to listen. We have entered an era in which the media are closer than ever before to the judicial institutions. If you manage to enter Libya, and come out with evidence, it can be sent to The Hague. When you see a concentration camp you can’t just say: “I went there, and I did my job”.
I have done dangerous and challenging things, but they had no impact, so it can’t come from me, I can only be the vehicle.
How did you get into Libya?
I cannot answer without endangering the lives of people who helped me. It takes a long time to build the contacts, and luckily, I am not part of the news industry so I can wait for months. Libya was the most difficult thing I’ve done, it took three years and it ruined me.
Fixers were hanging up on me, when they understood what I was really looking for. They would talk about rapes committed by Libyans on migrants, but not when the victims were also Libyans.
I had been in many war zones, and there is always need for psychotherapists. So, I thought I will talk about their psychological traumas. Sophrologie is a breathing technique which allows you to sleep better and reduces other PTSD symptoms. I translated a short book about it into Arabic and sent it to Libya, and I got an immediate response. Men came and they knew they were going to talk.
(Photos authorised by the interviewee for publication in The Prisma)