EU-African Union summit to debate alleged Libyan slave trading

Summit begins against a backdrop of global disgust at videos of slave auction in Tripoli

A woman holds a placard reading "No to slavery" during a demonstration against slavery in Libya, on November 25, 2017 in Marseille, southern France.  / AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT
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The fifth African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit kicked off on Wednesday in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, against a backdrop of global outcry about reports of alleged slave dealing in Libya, which was exposed by the news network CNN earlier this month.

The Politico website reports that declaration will be signed by EU and AU leaders that “[demands] the opening without delay of a thorough, credible and independent investigation into the alleged sale at auctions of African migrants.”

The shocking footage broadcast on CNN earlier this month, but filmed in October, threw a spotlight on a trade which is apparently widespread in the failed state. The video shows a dozen people sold at an auction in the Libyan capital Tripoli in just seven minutes.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the ‘auctioneer’ says. “What am I bid, what am I bid?” while bidders raise their hands and the prices rise: “500, 550, 600, 650 ...” Within minutes all the men have been sold and leave with their new ‘owners’.

CNN reported that the men were sold for the equivalent of just $400 each, and that the network knew of at least nine locations in the country where similar auctions were taking place – some which were in territory held by the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Other such slave markets are suspected to take place in areas of the country which are held by rebel militias, including those affiliated to Isil.

Many of the people trafficked in such a fashion are believed to be migrants who have not been able to make the crossing from Africa to Europe, having been rescued at sea by the Libyan coast guard and returned to the country.

There was horrified reaction from across the world to the CNN reports. The United Nations secretary-general António Guterres described the auctions as one of “the most egregious abuses of human rights” that he had witnessed and could even be crimes against humanity.

“I abhor these appalling acts and call upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Mr Guterres said. “I have asked the relevant United Nations actors to actively pursue this matter.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also called the auctions “a crime against humanity” and pressed for sanctions against the government in Tripoli, while Ghassan Salame, head of the United Nations Mission in Libya also demanded answers from the GNA.

“The Libyan Government must address comprehensively this outrage to the conscience of humanity. The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye (to) this already dire situation,” Salame added.

Perhaps the highest profile reaction to the reports came from Manchester United footballer Paul Pogba, who marked his goal against Newcastle United in the Premier League on November 18 by crossing his wrists as if they were shackled.

He later posted on Instagram that “While very happy to be back [from injury], my prayers go to those suffering slavery in Libya. May Allah be by your side and may this cruelty come to an end!”

Initially, the GNA reacted to the reports by launched an investigation into the auctions.

“[The] priorities of the investigation are not only to convict those responsible for these inhumane acts, but also to identify the location of those who have been sold in order to bring them to safety and return them to their countries of origin," Anes Alazabi, an official with the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency., told CNN.

Mohammed Bisher, the head of the agency said that detention facilities in Libya to hold migrants rescued at sea were full and asked for help from African Union states where the refugees were coming from.

“We are 278 million Libyan dinars (nearly $210 million) in debt. We have to provide food, medicine, transportation... If the African Union wants to help, they can help,” Bisher told CNN.

Removing the migrants who are especially susceptible to human traffickers and slave traders by deporting them to their home nations was “a logistical problem between the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the embassy representatives. We are ready to deport at any time,” Bisher continued.

“The countries these migrants came from did not take them back or contribute help for them inside Libya... We have only deported 5% of the 20,000 in the detention centers because of the lack of response from the governments of where these people are from.”

In recent days however the GNA has taken a more hostile approach to the reports; diplomats in Africa claimed that they were attempting to

Libyan diplomats in Africa have also hit back at the CNN reports, saying they were designed to damage the country’s global standing. Broadcaster Libya 218 seized on a tweet by US president Donald Trump that said “CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news” and questioned the credibility of the network.

“Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective,” the channel said, according to The Guardian.