France’s ambassador to the UN has urged the Security Council to impose sanctions on the people involved in Libya’s slave trade of African refugees and migrants.
Francois Delattre’s comments come as human trafficking in Libya has become a burning topic since a CNN investigation produced footage of West Africans being sold at slave markets in November.
“France will propose to assist the sanctions committee … in identifying responsible individuals and entities for trafficking through Libyan territory,” he told the council on Tuesday.
The UN Security Council held an emergency session to discuss the possibility of sanctions against individuals and entities, and of applying the full range of international law including the use of the international criminal court – but the session ended without resolution.
The head of the UNHCR has called for funds, in addition to words, to fight the modern-day slave trading.
“We count upon support of the members of the council to make headway to that end.”
A sanctions programme set up in 2011, the year of the US-supported invasion of Libya which saw the overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, allows the Security Council to place sanctions on “individuals and entities involved in or complicit in ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the commission of serious human rights abuses against persons in Libya”.
Slavery and human trafficking have been present in Libya for years.
“This has been going for quite some time,” Omar Turbi, a Libyan human rights defender, told Al Jazeera.
Even under Gaddafi, Libya “struggled” with arms trafficking, drug trafficking and human trafficking, according to Turbi, who has worked with the US government to save lives in the North African country.
There are competing governments – the National Transition Council recognised by the UN and the Khalifa Haftar government which controls more territory – and the presence of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Qaeda that control large expanses of territory.
Other members of the Security Council have condemned modern-day slavery in Libya.
“To see the pictures of these men being treated like cattle, and to hear the auctioneer describe them as, quote, ‘big strong boys for farm work,’ should shock the conscience of us all,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council last week.
“There are few greater violations of human rights and human dignity than this.”
Asked if sanctions could help end the sale of human beings in Libya, Turbi, the rights defender, said he was not sure.
“It’s going to be extremely hard to control the borders,” he told Al Jazeera.
“What is really needed is work to institute a viable government in Libya, not a failed state. The government in Libya is helpless.”
Turbi also pointed to human traffickers in Europe, specifically Italy and Malta, who he said are not being confronted by their governments.