Libya slave auctions: ‘Everybody knew’

Libyan Navy boat with migrants on board arrives at navy base in Tripoli, Libya Nov. 23, 2017. (Reuters/Ismail Zitouny)
Updated 24 November 2017
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Libya slave auctions: ‘Everybody knew’

PARIS: World leaders may have been quick to voice outrage over video footage of Libyan slave auctions, but activists raised the alarm months ago — and their warnings fell on deaf ears.
Aid workers, rights groups and analysts say they had been shouting about rape, torture and forced work for thousands of black Africans in the war-torn north African country until they were blue in the face.
But it took CNN’s footage of young Africans being auctioned off near Tripoli, filmed on a hidden camera and aired on November 14, to force Western and African leaders into a flurry of condemnation.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres was “horrified“; African Union chief Alpha Conde was “outraged.”
France requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, with President Emmanuel Macron branding the auctions a crime against humanity.
But NGOs and experts have charged leaders with hypocrisy.
“Ordinary people aside, everyone knew about this — governments, international organizations, political leaders,” said Hamidou Anne, a Senegalese analyst at think-tank L’Afrique des Idees.
Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West Africa director, said “hostage-takings, violence, torture and rape” were well documented in Libya.
“And we’ve been talking about slavery for a long time,” he added.
Libya became a massive transit hub for sub-Saharan Africans setting sail for Europe after the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 tipped the country into chaos.
The EU has been desperate to stem the influx — more than 1.5 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2015, according to UN figures.
But leaders are at a loss to find solutions for the asylum seekers on the other side of the Mediterranean.
This month it faced heavy criticism from the UN over its training of the Libyan coast guard, which the world body’s rights chief said resulted in migrants being sent back to “horrific” prisons.


With EU support, Italy has been training Libyan coast guards to intercept boats as part of a controversial deal that has seen migrant arrivals down nearly 70 percent since July.
But the UN charges that the policy leaves migrants returned to Libya at risk of torture, rape, forced labor and extortion.
“The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
Brussels has hit back that its coast guard training has helped save lives — nearly 3,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year — while EU aid has helped UN agencies to send 10,000 migrants home from Libya voluntarily.
In The Gambia, Karamo Keita set up a group to warn fellow youngsters not to attempt the trip to Europe, after suffering horrific abuses in Libya including slave labor.
“In Libya, black people have no right,” he told AFP back in September.
“We were taken to various farms where the Libyan guy sold us as slaves. We worked on the farms for free.”
The International Organization for Migration had in April reported the existence of markets where migrants became “commodities to be bought.”
And several months later the head of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Joanne Liu, wrote an open letter to European governments warning of the thriving “kidnapping, torture and extortion business.”
“In their efforts to stem the influx, are European governments ready to pay the price for rape, torture and slavery?” she asked, adding: “We can’t say we didn’t know about this.”


Amnesty’s Tine said that in its efforts to stop migrants arriving “at all cost,” Europe bore “a fundamental responsibility” for the horrors in Libya.
Yet others are also to blame, he told AFP.
“African countries do nothing to make their young people stay, to give them work,” he said.
Analyst Hamidou Anne also said a passive response from African leaders was in part to blame for the unfolding disaster, along with “systematic racism in the Maghreb countries.”
“This cannot go on,” he said.
“Faced with a crime against humanity you don’t condemn it, you act.”
Tiny Rwanda has offered, since the scandal broke, to take in 30,000 Africans from Libya.
Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos meanwhile told AFP on Thursday that the EU was “working without let-up” to find solutions.
Tine said slavery needed to be on the agenda at an EU-AU summit on November 29-30 in Abidjan, an idea already floated by Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou.
“We need an impartial investigation to see how the trafficking is organized and who is behind it,” Tine said.
And, he added, “everyone must take their responsibilities.”


Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.