In the wake of the CNN film recording slave auctions in Libya, there has been a rightful surge in alarm of the thousands of Africans suffering in dehumanising detention centres. After years of failed diplomacy and solitary support, it looks like the world is ready to talk about the humanitarian crisis that is the Libyan Slave Trade.
To understand the crisis properly, we must first look at its history. The slave trade had existed in North Africa since antiquity, with influxes of African slaves provided through Trans-Saharan trade routes; these towns were recorded by Romans for their slave markets and this characteristic was followed through into the medieval trade. And by the 15th century, seized ships were enslaved or ransomed. It’s estimated almost 1.25 million Europeans were captured by the Barbary pirates, reaching as far north to Iceland, crossing through into England, states such as Venice and Malaga suffering from depopulation.
Yet, Libya, a state that has long been impacted, culturally and politically by the lucrative slave trade, has only now caught the eye of the world. A video of men auctioned off to the highest bidder has wracked the moral shoulders of the world, providing a blunt, visual reminiscent of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Libya is the main transit point for refugees trying to enter Europe from the sea. The Libyan Coast Guard funded by the EU, primarily by Italy, to prevent migrant smuggling, has led to almost a million trapped in Libyan detention centres, numerous reports of rape, murder, robbery, central to the story. The conditions in these horrible centres make migrants vulnerable to be sold off as labourers in auctions.
You may be wondering how this happened, and for what reason, it is still happening. Though the UN has launched an investigation into the claims, Libya will always be regarded as a failure of a state. With the dissolution of Gaddafi’s government in 2011, a political power vacuum, with no common rule of law, had inevitably led to different factions of tribes, gangs, and militia seizing control; and in a country with no laws, no enforcement, the profitable industry that is slavery, of course, would be predominant.
There have been many reports about the inner workings of this human trafficking circle. Videos show hundreds of migrants bought and sold regularly, depicting horrible scenes of severe abuse such as shocks, skinning, sexual abuse, and burning.
Though news on this tragedy has been slow and quiet, there has been an international response. The governments of several African countries including Burkina Faso recalled their Libyan ambassadors. Mass gatherings of protestors gathered in front of Libyan embassies in Paris. The Chairman of the African Union called the auctions ‘despicable’ and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, classed this act as a crime against humanity.
“To see the pictures of these men being treated like cattle, and to hear the auctioneer describe them as, quote, ‘big strong boys for farm work,’ should shock the conscience of us all.”US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley’s condemnation.
So why did it take so long to have a unified voice of reason on such a well-researched issue? Why now? What allowed for such a delayed response and what does this say about how race plays with humanitarian work? Though the men in the video were not in cuffs, they were most definitely imprisoned, their fate secured to this contemporary slave trade. For Sub-Saharan African leaders, to feign ignorance that Libyans do not see Black Africans as equals, is a mess which needs to be fixed. The duty is on African leaders to restore the dignity of citizens and put an end to such barbarity, to once and for all stamp out the illegal practise of slavery.
A few resources for further research:
- Time: ‘The Libyan Slave Trade Has Shocked the World. Here’s What You Should Know’ https://time.com/5042560/libya-slave-trade/
- Time: ‘It Was As if We Weren’t Human.’ Inside the Modern Slave Trade Trapping African Migrants https://time.com/longform/african-slave-trade/
- Al-Jazeera: ‘What can be done to end Libya’s slave trade? – The Stream’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNq0_TobQTk
- Mafu, L. (2019). The Libyan/Trans-Mediterranean Slave Trade, the African Union, and the Failure of Human Morality. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244019828849
- The GrassRoute Petition Feed
Written by Abida Noshin