Libya’s Human Trafficking Issue


On Thursday, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the flourishing human slave trade market in Libya. This statement was made after a video was released of men, who were described as “big strong boys for farm work,” being auctioned off for $400. The controversial footage of several men being sold at an auction was described as a “heinous abuse of human rights” and a “crime against humanity.” These men and women are refugees and migrants who arrived in Libya while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in hopes of escaping violence and poverty back home. The Security Council has prompted all relevant authorities in Libya to investigate such acts to “bring the perpetrators to justice.” CNN reports that the UN-backed Libyan government is currently investigating such allegations.

Libya’s human trafficking problem is closely linked to the refugee crisis. The country is the main transit point for African refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe by sea. An estimated 400,000 to almost one million people have now “bottled up” in Libya, and detention centres are overcrowded and overrun. Reports of robbery, rape, and murder among those detained are common. The living conditions in these detention centres have also faced scrutiny for the lack of preservation of human dignity.

Such slavery and human trafficking in Libya was only recently brought to the attention of international media. Human rights activists in the country have stated that this market has been present and thriving in Libya for years. Even under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya had existing issues with arms, drugs, and human trafficking.

CNN’s undercover filming of these auction events has incited backlash and protests against such acts throughout Africa and Europe. France’s UN ambassador has requested UNSC sanctions to be imposed on those involved in Libya’s slave trade. Other political leaders have also expressed outrage and have called for action. Despite the gravity of the illegal practices of human trafficking recorded on footage, the credibility of the evidence is under question by Libyan media, echoing the tweet by Donald Trump accusing CNN of spreading “fake news.”

As of now, the UNSC has held emergency meetings to discuss the use of sanctions and is applying the full range of international law in an attempt to put an immediate hold on the trade. However, the session ended with no consensus. Although Libyan authorities are currently investigating these trade practices, this is only a superficial approach to addressing the real roots of the issue. Libya is largely considered a failed state due to the power vacuum and continuous civil war following the ousting of Gaddafi in 2011. The transitional government holds no legitimate power and the state is currently led by different factions of militias, tribes, and gangs. Without any implementation of law, there are no legal institutions or instruments to tackle the slave trade. To truly address this issue, Libya will require the help of international humanitarian assistance to institute a strong and viable government.

In Hee Kang