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Libya must end “outrageous” auctions of enslaved people, UN experts insist

Libya slave auctions

30 November 2017

GENEVA (30 November 2017) –The Government of Libya must take urgent action to end the country’s trade in enslaved people, UN human rights experts* have said, after shocking images showing an auction of people were captured on video.

“We were extremely disturbed to see the images which show migrants being auctioned as merchandise, and the evidence of markets in enslaved Africans which has since been gathered,” the experts said in a joint statement.

“It is now clear that slavery is an outrageous reality in Libya. The auctions are reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder,” they said.

“The Government and the international community, particularly the EU which is the destination of most of the migrants, must take immediate and decisive action to ensure that this crime does not continue. They must also urgently prioritize the release of all those people who have been enslaved. Enslavement is most often an extreme form of racial discrimination,” they added. 

The experts welcomed a Libyan Government commitment to start an investigation of the issue, and insisted that the pledge had to be turned into concrete action, such as ensuring protective measures and effective remedies for victims, without delay.

“It is imperative that the authorities urgently locate and rescue the victims of this horrendous crime and that Libya holds the perpetrators accountable,” said the experts.

An estimated 700,000 migrants are in Libya, a major transit country for those trying to reach Europe.

“It is critically important for the Libyan Government to implement measures to protect migrants - among whom are victims of trafficking and minorities from different ethnic backgrounds - in accordance with international human rights laws and standards,” the experts said.

“Migrants in Libya are at high risk of multiple grave violations of their human rights, such as slavery, forced labour, trafficking, arbitrary and indefinite detention, exploitation and extortion, rape, torture and even being killed.

“The enslavement of migrants derives from the situation of extreme vulnerability in which they find themselves. It is paramount that the Government of Libya acts now to stop the human rights situation deteriorating further, and to bring about urgent improvements in the protection of migrants.”

The experts also urged the international community to act in solidarity to support the investigation of atrocious crimes occurring in the country. 

“UN Member States must stop ignoring the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, must urge countries to suspend any measures, including bilateral agreements with countries of origin and transit, that expose migrants to further risks, and should ensure that any such incidents are expeditiously and thoroughly investigated,” they said.

“It is a dangerous trend that European States are shifting responsibility for migrants to African countries instead of creating regular, safe, affordable and accessible channels for them. 

“Any agreement reached with the Libyan authorities needs to be in line with international human rights standards. European states can be held accountable for any human rights violations migrants are subject to.

“We remind the Libyan authorities and all other Governments that compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law norms is essential in the current climate of impunity and that justice must prevail,” they concluded. 


*The UN experts: Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; Mr. Felipe Gonzalez-Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume,Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquiccio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (UNVTFCFS), managed by OHCHR, provides assistance to people who have experienced some form of slavery. It provides direct humanitarian, legal and financial assistance to victims through grants awarded to non-governmental organisations.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
Ms. Karina Rampazzo (+41 22 917 9919 / [email protected] )

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