Libya slave trade outrage looms over key summit

Moroccans call for the return of their relatives who migrated to Libya, during a protest in Rabat on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2017
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Libya slave trade outrage looms over key summit

ABIDJAN: A furor over migrant slave markets in Libya casts a shadow over a key summit this week that aims to promote Africa’s long-term economic growth and stability, spurred by European fears of terrorism and mass migration.
The two-day African Union (AU) and EU summit opening Wednesday in the Ivory Coast economic capital Abidjan is focused mainly on the need to create jobs for Africa’s rapidly growing population.
The summit marks what Europe sees as a potential turning point for broader and deeper ties with a continent it once colonized widely.
However, the outrage over the slave trade in Libya looms over the talks in Abidjan, with the scandal having sparked protests in Dakar as well as in Brussels and other European capitals.
AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for “urgent measures” to stop the abuses of black Africans in Libya, which critics say have been fueled by EU-Libyan cooperation to curb migrant crossings to Europe.
“We face an emergency,” a grim-faced Faki told reporters in Brussels last week during summit preparations with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini.
Faki called for coordination with Libya, the AU, EU and UN to tackle the problem.
Mogherini said the summit of 55 AU and 28 EU leaders could take “joint action” on the migrants even if she stressed its aim is to build a broader partnership.
Acknowledging how the slavery revelations were “unbearable for both sides,” Mogherini said the Europeans and Africans will push the UN-backed government in Libya to prosecute the slave traders.
They will also press Libya to give UN humanitarian agencies greater access to migrant detention centers, where she said their work in the last year has improved conditions and led to the voluntary return of some 10,000 migrants to their home countries.
But rights activists have asked why it took so long for African and European leaders to condemn abuses that had been known long before US network CNN aired footage two weeks ago of slave markets near Tripoli.
Libya became a massive transit hub for sub-Saharan Africans setting sail for Europe after the fall of former ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 tipped the country into chaos.
The EU has been desperate to stem the migrant influx via Libya and Turkey, the two main routes, as more than 1.5 million migrants have reached Europe since 2015.
EU officials said the influx, which sparked political divisions across the EU, and frequent terrorist attacks in Europe have been a wake-up call to tackle the root causes.
The EU has already set up multi-billion euro funds to promote Africa’s economic development while deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with African countries where militant groups are spreading.
“What happens in Africa matters for Europe, and what happens in Europe matters for Africa,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said before leaving for the summit. “Our partnership is an investment in our shared future,” he added in a statement.
Ahmed Reda Chami, Morocco’s ambassador to the EU who will attend the summit, said Europe had a vested long-term interest in Africa whose population is set to double by 2050 to around 2.4 billion people.
“If there is no economic development, you will have hundreds of millions of young people who have no future, who will (try to) come to Europe to find work,” Chami told AFP at his Brussels mission.
Like other leading Africans, Chami called for a “Marshall Plan” for Africa, but linked to anti-corruption measures and tailored to African needs.
The multi-billion dollar Marshall Plan launched by the US after World War II is widely credited for helping Europe achieve its current prosperity and stability.


France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Updated 17 min 2 sec ago
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France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

PARIS: France on Thursday called for Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to be released and warned Tehran that its adherence to a nuclear accord does not give it a blank cheque on human rights.
“We will do all we can to secure the release of Mrs.Sotoudeh,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the upper chamber Senate.
“She was condemned under astonishing conditions,” for “defending the rights of women, in particular those who contest the obligation to wear the Islamic veil,” he added.
Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan told AFP on Sunday that his wife had been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison over a case with seven charges, but she is to only serve the longest sentence, 12 years imposed on Sunday for “encouraging corruption and debauchery.”
She has also been convicted of espionage.
Sotoudeh has also been sentenced to a total of 148 lashes for appearing in court without the hijab Islamic head covering and for another offense.
According to Khandan, Sotoudeh has refrained from choosing a lawyer as attorneys on her previous cases have faced prosecution for representing her.
“We have been making considerable efforts in recent months to preserve the (Iranian) nuclear accord, despite America’s withdrawal,” said Le Drian.
“We are doing so because we respect our signature, but Iran must also respect its obligations in particular those international agreements relating to civil and political rights,” he added.
Last month the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran has been adhering to its deal with world powers on limiting its nuclear program, as diplomatic wrangling continues over the future of the accord.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was still complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with global powers under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Last week, European nations rejected a call from US Vice President Mike Pence to follow the US lead in withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Le Drian said Thursday: “Our wish to preserve the Vienna accord does not grant carte-blanche to Iran and certainly not in the matter of human rights.”
Before her arrest, Sotoudeh, 55, had taken on the cases of several women arrested for appearing in public without headscarves in protest at the mandatory dress code in force in Iran.
Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2012 for her work on high-profile cases, including those of convicts on death row for offenses committed as minors.
She spent three years in prison after representing dissidents arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.