US secretary of state Hillary Clinton accused the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of using rape and violence against women as "tools of war."
Clinton said that the United States was "deeply concerned" by reports of widescale rape in Libya and "troubled" by reports that governments across the Middle East and North Africa were using sexual violence to punish protesters.
"Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called 'virginity tests' have taken place in countries throughout the region," she said in a statement.
"Gaddafi's security forces and other groups in the region are trying to divide the people by using violence against women and rape as tools of war, and the United States condemns this in the strongest possible terms."
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that last week that there was evidence the Libyan authorities bought "Viagra-type" medicines and gave them to troops as part of an official rape policy.
"Recently, the International Criminal Court has taken note of the appalling evidence that rape in Libya is widespread and systematically employed," Clinton said.
"A thorough investigation of this matter is needed to bring perpetrators to justice."
Clinton mentioned Iman al-Obeidi, whose accusations of rape against soldiers loyal to Gaddafi garnered worldwide attention when she stormed into the Rixos hotel in Tripoli - where many Western journalists were based - and threw open her coat to reveal scars and bruises on her body.