Outraging Video Shows Migrants Being Sold as Slaves in Libya

Last week, CNN published a video of African migrants apparently being sold in a slave auction. The video, filmed in August of this year, showed a man selling migrant slaves for farm work, declaring that they were ‘big strong boys’, and eventually settling on a price of roughly 400 dollars for the sale of one migrant. One buyer asks, ‘what happened to the ones from Niger?’, and the man selling the slaves replies they have already been sold off.

Libya is the main hub for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. Smugglers in Libya offer migrants transit to Europe, although the trip is incredibly dangerous: figures from the UN’s migration agency suggest that roughly 3,000 per year have died in their attempts to get to the European mainland.

While some of the smugglers genuinely make their money by offering ways of getting migrants to Europe, others who are offering the service take the money from migrants and then sell them into slavery.

The vast majority of migrants come from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa; 242 Nigerian migrants were flown out of Libya back to Nigeria just last week. The scale of the problem is huge: last Wednesday, the leaders of several countries in Africa and Europe drafted plans to evacuate approximately 15,000 people from Libya to their home countries. Due to the chaos of the Libyan Civil War, locating and assisting the migrants being sold into slavery could amount to a Herculean task.

International Outrage

The shocking footage has prompted international outrage, with the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, making a declaration that ‘slavery has no place in our world, and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity’. He also said that he had called on the relevant United Nations actors to actively investigate and pursue the alleged sale of human beings as slaves.

In Paris, protestors took to the streets in a demonstration against slavery. Similar demonstrations look place outside of Libyan embassies in several countries in Europe. Libyans living in other countries took to Twitter to express their outrage with the hashtag #LibyansAgainstSlavery. A march to London’s Libyan Embassy in protest against the video was organized on Twitter, due to take place on December 9th.

Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuter

The Libyan Response

The response from the Libyan media and officials indicates that there is little appetite for an investigation into slave auctions. According to The Guardian, the broadcaster Libya 218 claimed that there was a possibility that CNN ‘published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective’. Libyan diplomats have also argued that the report was designed to portray Libya in a negative light, pointing to the statement from the Niger’s ambassador to Libya, in which he claimed that the Nigerian government had no knowledge of any Nigerian citizens being sold as slaves in Libya.

The scepticism of Libyan officials as to the accuracy of CNN’s reporting has led to criticism of President Trump for his repeated attacks on CNN, as well as his claims that CNN is guilty of publishing ‘fake news’. Human Rights Watch researcher Hannah Salah was quoted by the Independent as saying, ‘people are rightfully outraged, but don’t hold your breath that anything real is going to happen’.

Sanctions and Solutions

The French United Nations ambassador, Francois Delattre, has said that the United Nations should use sanctions to prevent trafficking in Libya. In 2011, the UN established the Libya Sanctions Committee, which is able to institute a travel ban on any individuals who have been involved or complicit in Human Rights abuses. However, if sanctions are to be enacted, proposals will need to win consensus support of the 15 members of the committee.

Libya has had a problem with people smuggling for several years, and hundreds of thousands of Libyan migrants have been sent by sea to Europe since 2014. Last week, the Security Council adopted an Italian proposal to tackle modern slavery and people smuggling worldwide. The resolution called for co-operation between countries to crack down on the illegal people smuggling, which generates illegal profits of about $150bn per year. It is unclear whether efforts to prevent future Human Rights abuses will be successful, but the global outrage combined with the power and resoluteness of the United Nations suggests that progress on the issue is possible.

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