Video of apparent slave markets triggers outrage and calls to investigate
Tunis- Television news footage of African migrants being sold in Libya has led to international outrage and far-reaching condemnation.
CNN earlier this month aired scenes of what it described as smugglers “auctioning migrants off as slaves,” fanning the pains of Libyans about the decay of their state and society. CNN crew members said they witnessed a dozen men being sold within a few minutes at a property outside Tripoli. The footage showed two young men standing in the dark while another shouted out prices. They were apparently sold to bidders for the equivalent of $400 each.
The November 13 report revived the divide in Libya as the government in the east blamed its rivals in Tripoli for the gruesome abuses of migrants. Mohammed Sayala, foreign minister of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, said the authorities would investigate the report.
Neither one of the rival government is currently able to assert law and order across the whole country as they are vying for power and wealth, six years after longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed.
While CNN’s report includes the first confirmed footage of Libyan “slave markets,” according to independent Libyan researcher Mary Fitzgerald, similar accounts of abuse and torture have long been reported amid Libya’s strife.
Many African migrants during Muammar Qaddafi’s rule worked for some time to raise the needed money to pay smugglers to sail illegally to Italy, often seen as a gateway for migrants to Europe seeking a better life.
Young African men bound for Europe have been frequently caught in trafficking networks and sold for labour in Libya, where many have been detained, tortured and even killed, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the auctioning of Africans as a “crime against humanity.” His government called on November 22 for an emergency UN Security Council meeting to address the issue.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for an investigation by the appropriate UN bodies to bring the perpetrators to justice. “Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights,” said Guterres, adding that migration must be addressed “in a comprehensive and humane manner” and should include a crackdown on smugglers and traffickers.
The news of open-air slave markets has prompted a backlash from the Libyan populace, with many citizens sharing the hashtag “#LibyansAgainstSlavery.”
Writer Omar Abulqasim Alkikli said the news of the slave markets was indicative of “the decline of human values within Libya’s social fabric.”
“Poor Africans seeking a better life outside their homelands found themselves trapped in Libya by horrible and miserable decoys of Libyan human beings to abuse of their bodies and dignity and sell them to work as slaves,” Alkikli wrote.
There was also public outrage in African capitals, with protesters gathering outside Libyan embassies in Bamako, Mali and Conakry, Guinea, as well as in Paris between November 18-20, according to local news reports.
Athletes and musicians voiced their opposition as well, with Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who is of Guinean descent, throwing his hands up in a protest symbol after scoring a goal on November 18 and posting a message on Instagram for “those suffering slavery in Libya.”
Ivorian reggae artist Alpha Blondy wrote in a Facebook post addressed to African leaders: “What are you waiting for to react and intervene???”
In Tunisia, trade union UGTT labelled the sale of migrants an “aggression against humanity” and called on political forces in Libya to fight terrorist militias and other criminal gangs that “are borrowing their practices from Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq.”
A number of African men in Cameroon were quoted by Agence France-Presse talking about being sold into slavery in Libya. “It was total hell,” said Maxime Ndong, who arrived back home in Cameroon with a group of 250 migrants flown by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“There is a trade in black people there. People who want slaves… come to buy them,” Ndong said “If you resist, they shoot at you. There have been deaths.”
Another migrant, 22-year-old Sanogo, said he had been caught by people who said they were police before being sold to a slave trader. He was then forced to work on a tomato farm.
The European Union has come under fire for allegedly cooperating with the Libyan coastguard to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called this policy “inhuman” and accused the international community of turning a “blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya.”
African and European leaders are due to meet in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan on November 29- 30, where migration and Europe’s efforts to tackle it by co-opting Libya likely will be high on the agenda.