An Extended Interview with Dr. Hilmi Zawati, President of the International Legal Advocacy Forum on Wartime Rape in Syria and Libya

8 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2013

See all articles by Ibtisam Mahmoud

Ibtisam Mahmoud

Glen Site Medical Library – McConnell Resource Centre

Aron Zaltz

University of Toronto, School of Law

Hilmi Zawati

Centre for International Accountability and Justice (CIAJ).

Date Written: July 10, 2013


This is an extended Arabic Translation of the abridged version of Aron Zaltz's interview with Dr. Hilmi Zawati. It was conducted during the international conference on “Sexual Violence in the Recent Conflicts in Libya & Syria: Challenges to Protecting Victims & Protecting Accountability,” held at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, February 8th, 2013. The abridged version this interview was published in Rights Review,” (March 2013) 6:2, under the title: “Gendering the Arab Spring: The Challenge of Prosecuting Wartime Rape under Libyan Transitional Justice.”

In this interview Dr. Zawati provides that wartime rape is adventitious to Muslim societies, and raping a Muslim woman means sentencing her to death, physically, psychologically and socially. Assaulted Muslim women might be killed (honour killing), abandoned, or socially rejected. In wartime, a Muslim woman might be killed by her family or committed suicide as a preventive measure of being raped. This is due to the fact that there is a huge gap between the traditional practices of Muslims and the norms of Islamic law, particularly on women and family issues. Islamic law — which has prosecuted and punished wartime rape, as early as fourteen centuries before the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, 1993 — considers the right to life, and prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment (hifz al-nafs) as one of the most fundamental rights protected by (al-hudud), which are penalties established by Almighty Allah and left a judge no discretionary authority. Any Muslim fighter who may commit fornication, rape and other forms of gender-based sexual violence is subject to stoning to death or, to lashing, according to the gravity of the crime and to his status as single or married. In this respect, it might be important to mention that Muslim countries, despite declaring Islam as the religion of the state and Islamic law as the primary source of legislation, they have utterly failed to incorporate the latter in the norms of their domestic laws. Most of these countries adhere more to positive and modern international law than to Islamic law.

Accordingly, Dr. Zawati calls upon the Libyan government to immediately declare and recognize wartime rape survivors as heroines, as they were targeted and assaulted during the Libyan people’s battle for liberation and democracy. Labelling rape casualties as “deeply wounded” combatants instead of rape victims would be helpful in softening their grief, particularly in rural areas, where thousands of women were systematically attacked. This reconceptualizing will also help them in managing shame and associated stigma in a way that would make them more comfortable while seeking treatment, talking to investigators, or testifying at trials.

Moreover, he asserts that despite the international law conventions’ and post-WWII criminal tribunals statutes’ fine-sounding norms, rape and other forms of sexual violence has been increased in recent civil and transnational armed conflicts. He believes that this is due to several factors, including poor implementation of the above laws, abstractness of the statutory laws of the international criminal tribunals and courts, and to the fact that politics rides over justice in many cases. A case in point is the failure of the Security Council to take a decision to stop the two years war in Syria and refer the case to the ICC under Chapter VII. As well, the failure of the Prosecutor at the ICC to initiate a proprio motu investigation in respect of such crimes under Articles 13 and 15 of the Rome Statute. He added, the worst of the above is the promotion of the culture of impunity by the international organization. For example, the UN Security Council Resolution 1487 (2003), has exempted the American troops and personnel serving in any UN force in Iraq from prosecution for international war crimes under the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Note: Downloadable document is in Arabic.

Keywords: Wartime Rape, Gender-Based Crimes, Islamic Law, Honour Killing, Sexual Violence, Syria, Libya, Hilmi M. Zawati

Suggested Citation

Mahmoud, Ibtisam and Zaltz, Aron and Zawati, Hilmi, An Extended Interview with Dr. Hilmi Zawati, President of the International Legal Advocacy Forum on Wartime Rape in Syria and Libya (July 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Ibtisam Mahmoud

Glen Site Medical Library – McConnell Resource Centre ( email )

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Aron Zaltz

University of Toronto, School of Law


Hilmi Zawati (Contact Author)

Centre for International Accountability and Justice (CIAJ). ( email )

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Montreal, Quebec H4M 1S4

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