Summit addresses plight of Africa's modern slaves
Publish date: 04 December 2017
Issue Number: 754
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Legalbrief reports that the extraordinary plight of thousands of ‘slaves’ who are being held in transit camps in battered Libya came under intense scrutiny at an EU/AU summit in Abidjan last week. The North African country has become an enormous transit hub for sub-Saharan Africans seeking to reach Europe since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The summit gathering European and African leaders from more than 80 countries drew to a close on Thursday with plans for the immediate evacuation of about 3 800 African migrants stranded in Libya. Wrapping up the summit, a top AU official said there could be as many as 700 000 Africans trapped in Libya, where many have suffered atrocities and even been sold into slavery. The event was showcased as a project to boost development in Africa as it faces a population crunch. However, a report on the News24 site notes that it was largely overshadowed by the shock footage of black Africans sold as slaves in Libya. In a final address, AU commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said those stranded in Libya wanted to get out ‘as swiftly as possible’, warning that there were between ‘400 000 and 700 000’ people there and at least 42 migrant camps. ‘We must urgently save those who are in this (dire) situation, and then together, Libya, the EU, AU and UN, we must think about devising longer-term solutions for the migration issue.’ Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara demanded action on Wednesday to combat migrant slave trading in Libya. Summit host Ouattara lashed slavery as a ‘wretched drama which recalls the worst hours of human history’. ‘I would like to appeal to our sense of responsibility to take all urgent measures to put an end to that practice, which belongs to another age,’ he said. French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a crackdown on traffickers, efforts to break up smuggling rings and the evacuation of people in Libya's migrant camps who are at risk of falling into slave traders' hands. A report on the HuffPost SA site notes that trafficking in Libya has gone beyond auctioning humans and some ‘slave masters’ are using them for organ trade. That’s according to lawyer Bobby Banson who said in some cases, ‘their human parts are harvested’ and ‘kidney, liver are in high demand’. ‘They are put on some drugs and their parts are harvested and resold. So that is actually what is happening, and that is a crime against humanity,’ he said.
The UN said it wants Libya’s internationally-backed government to agree to shut down 30 detention centres holding 15 000 migrants, most of whom will be sent back to their countries. A report on The Citizen site notes that the International Organisation for Migration said it was working with the UN refugee agency on a plan ‘to try to empty the detention centres’. France requested the urgent meeting with the Security Council to push for a tough response after the footage aired by CNN showed migrants sold for as little as $400. A report on the News24 site notes that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU wants to work more closely with Africa to address illegal migration. 'It's very important that we simply support Africans to put a stop to illegal migration, so people don't have to either suffer in horrible camps in Libya or are even being traded,' she told the summit. She added that in order to improve living conditions for Africans 'the question of education of children and teenagers, especially of girls', is key.
When uniformed men boarded an overloaded rubber dingy carrying Christelle Timdi to a new life in Europe she thought the Italian coastguard had come to rescue them. But the men took out guns and began to shoot. ‘Many people fell in the sea,’ the 32-year-old Cameroonian said as she described seeing her boyfriend, Douglas, falling in the water and disappearing. A report on the allAfrica site notes that the gunmen took the passengers back to Libya where they were locked up, raped, beaten and forced to make calls to their families back home for ransom payments to secure their freedom. Timdi, who flew back to Cameroon last month, told her story as international outcry escalated over the video which appeared to show African migrants being traded as slaves in Libya. ‘I saw it with my own eyes,’ she said, describing how she had seen a Senegalese man buying an African migrant.
Barack Obama has said the biggest mistake of his presidency was the lack of planning for the aftermath of Gaddafi’s ouster in Libya that left the country spiralling into chaos and coming under threat from violent extremists. Reflecting on his legacy in a Fox News interview aired last week, Obama said his ‘worst mistake’ was ‘probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya’. The Guardian reports that White House spokesperson Josh Earnest subsequently said Obama’s regrets extended to what ‘the United States and the rest of the members of our coalition didn’t do’. ‘The president has tried to apply this lesson in considering the use of military and other circumstances,’ Earnest said. In March, Obama made a searing critique of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the former French leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, for their roles in the bombing campaign they led in Libya.
In a separate significant development, the Danish Government has officially apologised to Ghana for its role in the dark history of slave trade when millions of Africans were shipped to Europe and the Americas. A report on the allAfrica site notes that this follows a visit by a Danish delegation – led by Queen Magarethe II who is the first monarch to visit the west African nation. Foreign Minister Anders Samuelson said nothing could justify the inhuman treatment meted out to human beings under the guise of slave trade. Sputnik News reports that while Denmark is not the nation immediately associated with transatlantic slavery, it managed to settle several Caribbean islands and maintain colonial possessions in Africa during its ‘Golden Age’. On 20 April 1663, Denmark conquered two forts on what was then known as the Gold Coast. The forts, subsequently named Christiansborg and Carlsborg, became the focal points of the Danish-Norwegian acquisition of slaves, who were later shipped to the Danish West Indies in the Caribbean where they were put on sugar plantations. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the slave trade was ‘unforgivable’. However, a formal apology was never made, which many attributed to the fear of compensation claims.