US television network CNN aired footage last week of an apparent slave auction in Libya. African migrants were apparently seen as being sold off as farm hands to locals.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that recent reports of African migrants being sold as slaves in Libya were "appalling" and could amount to crimes against humanity.
Guterres said that he felt "horrified" to see video footage from a CNN investigation, which appeared to show two young men being auctioned off at a slave auction where migrants were sold for as little as 400 dollars (340 euros) per person. The authenticity of the video could not independently be verified.
"I abhor these appalling acts and call upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice," Guterres told reporters. "Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity."
The German DPA news agency reported that the UN chief said the "scourge" of human trafficking should remind the international community of the need to address issues surrounding migration, as African and European leaders prepare to meet in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan next week, where Europe's efforts to tackle migration by co-opting Libya will be high on the agenda.
Guterres said that he wanted Libyan authorities alongside the International Criminal Court, which has a mandate to open war crimes investigations in Libya, to look into the issue of slave auctions, according to UN spokesman Farhan Haq. The UN Security Council will discuss human trafficking during a special debate in New York today which is expected to focus on the treatment of migrants in Libya.
Burkina Faso takes diplomatic measures
Burkina Faso's foreign minister meanwhile its ambassador to Libya over the reports of the alleged slave auction. The Reuters news agency reported that Foreign Minister Alpha Barry announced the decision by President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in a news conference as follows:
"The president of Burkina Faso has decided to recall the ambassador to Tripoli, General Abraham Traore, for a consultation," Barry said. He added that he had also "summoned the Libyan charge d'affairs in Ouagadougou to express our indignation at these images that belong to other centuries, images of the slave trade". President Kabore has also demanded information from Libya about the fate of some 30 Burkinabe migrants detained in the camps, Barry added.
Further reactions across African and beyond
Other African nations also shared their reactions, with Senegal's government expressing "outrage at the sale of Sub-Saharan African migrants on Libyan soil" that constituted a "blight on the conscience of humanity." Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou meanwhile said that the issue had made him "deeply angry" and urged Libyan authorities and international organizations to do "everything possible to stop this practice."
Agence France Presse reported that protesters meanwhile also gathered outside the Libyan embassies in Paris and in several other African capital cities including Bamako, Mali and Conakry, Guinea over the weekend. A protest is planned in London later this week. Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Omar Maiteeq meanwhile said in a statement that his UN-backed Government of National Accord would investigate the allegations. Many Libyans also took to social media and used the hashtag #LibyansAgainstSlavery on Facebook and Twitter, expressing their horror and disapproval.
Libya's power vacuum
Young African migrants bound for Europe reportedly are often caught picked up by trafficking networks and sold for cheap labor in Libya, where many refugees are detained, tortured, and even killed, according to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Six years after the fall of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya largely remains a lawless state where armed groups compete for land and resources and people-smuggling networks continue to operate with impunity.
"People are rightfully outraged, but don't hold your breath that anything real is going to happen," Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Hanan Salah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in light of the most recent revelations.
According to the IOM, at least 20,000 migrants are being detained in Libya, which currently is the main gateway for Africans to reach Europe.