First Published: 2017-11-24

Activists say 'everybody knew' about Libya slave trade
Aid workers, rights groups, analysts say their warnings about rape, torture, forced work for thousands of black Africans in war-torn Libya fell on deaf ears.
Middle East Online

Protesters shout slogans against slavery outside the Libyan embassy in Rabat, Morocco.

PARIS - World leaders may have been quick to voice outrage over video footage of Libyan slave auctions, but activists raised the alarm months ago -- and their warnings fell on deaf ears.

Aid workers, rights groups and analysts say they had been shouting about rape, torture and forced work for thousands of black Africans in the war-torn north African country until they were blue in the face.

But it took CNN's footage of young Africans being auctioned off near Tripoli, filmed on a hidden camera and aired on November 14, to force Western and African leaders into a flurry of condemnation.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres was "horrified"; African Union chief Alpha Conde was "outraged".

France requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, with President Emmanuel Macron branding the auctions a crime against humanity.

But NGOs and experts have charged leaders with hypocrisy.

"Ordinary people aside, everyone knew about this -- governments, international organisations, political leaders," said Hamidou Anne, a Senegalese analyst at think-tank L'Afrique des Idees.

Alioune Tine, Amnesty International's West Africa director, said "hostage-takings, violence, torture and rape" were well documented in Libya.

"And we've been talking about slavery for a long time," he added.

Libya became a massive transit hub for sub-Saharan Africans setting sail for Europe after the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 tipped the country into chaos.

The EU has been desperate to stem the influx -- more than 1.5 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2015, according to UN figures.

But leaders are at a loss to find solutions for the asylum seekers on the other side of the Mediterranean.

This month it faced heavy criticism from the UN over its training of the Libyan coastguard, which the world body's rights chief said resulted in migrants being sent back to "horrific" prisons.

- 'Unimaginable horrors' -

With EU support, Italy has been training Libyan coastguards to intercept boats as part of a controversial deal that has seen migrant arrivals down nearly 70 percent since July.

But the UN charges that the policy leaves migrants returned to Libya at risk of torture, rape, forced labour and extortion.

"The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.

Brussels has hit back that its coastguard training has helped save lives -- nearly 3,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year -- while EU aid has helped UN agencies to send 10,000 migrants home from Libya voluntarily.

In The Gambia, Karamo Keita set up a group to warn fellow youngsters not to attempt the trip to Europe, after suffering horrific abuses in Libya including slave labour.

"In Libya, black people have no right," he told the AFP news agency back in September.

"We were taken to various farms where the Libyan guy sold us as slaves. We worked on the farms for free."

The International Organization for Migration had in April reported the existence of markets where migrants became "commodities to be bought".

And several months later the head of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Joanne Liu, wrote an open letter to European governments warning of the thriving "kidnapping, torture and extortion business".

"In their efforts to stem the influx, are European governments ready to pay the price for rape, torture and slavery?" she asked, adding: "We can't say we didn't know about this."

- 'Don't condemn, act' -

Amnesty's Tine said that in its efforts to stop migrants arriving "at all cost", Europe bore "a fundamental responsibility" for the horrors in Libya.

Yet others are also to blame, he said.

"African countries do nothing to make their young people stay, to give them work," he said.

Analyst Hamidou Anne also said a passive response from African leaders was in part to blame for the unfolding disaster, along with "systematic racism in the Maghreb countries".

"This cannot go on," he said.

"Faced with a crime against humanity you don't condemn it, you act."

Tiny Rwanda has offered, since the scandal broke, to take in 30,000 Africans from Libya.

Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos meanwhile said on Thursday that the EU was "working without let-up" to find solutions.

Tine said slavery needed to be on the agenda at an EU-AU summit on November 29-30 in Abidjan, an idea already floated by Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou.

"We need an impartial investigation to see how the trafficking is organised and who is behind it," Tine said.

And, he added, "everyone must take their responsibilities."


More strikes hit E. Ghouta as UN delays truce vote

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Egypt presidential race starts with Sisi likely to win

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Blatter supports Morocco bid for 2026 World Cup

Turkey says US embassy Jerusalem opening in May 'extremely worrying'

Lebanon says both suspects in Kuwait murder of Filipina maid held

38 dead in Mogadishu car bombings

Morocco police arrests prominent newspaper publisher

Syria regime continues to pound Ghouta as world stutters

UN rights commission wants S.Sudan war crimes charges

Iran grounds airline's ATR planes after crash

Turkey summons Dutch diplomat over Armenian 'genocide' vote

Turkey navy threatens to engage Italian drillship near Cyprus

Iran police shoving headscarf protester sparks social media storm

UN Security Council to vote Friday on Syria ceasefire

Dubai says Djibouti illegally seized African port

Dutch parliament recognises 1915 Armenian massacre as genocide

Heavily bombarded Eastern Ghouta awaits UN resolution

Russia says Syria rebels rejected offer to evacuate E. Ghouta

UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto

Iranian minister’s presence at UN rights meeting angers critics

Iran warns it will leave nuke deal if banks cannot do business

Qatar to plant thousands of trees to ‘beautify’ World Cup venues

Pro-Kurdish party says Turkey lying about 'no civilian deaths' in Afrin

African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

Egypt sentences 21 to death for planning attacks

Israeli handball teams in Qatar spark furious outcry from locals

UN report highlights S.Sudan journalist treatment

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers