Windhoek-Members of Parliament from the SADC region attending the recent 42nd Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum have unanimously adopted a motion condemning the reported slave trade of asylum seekers and migrants in Libya.
A July 2017 video clip that went viral showing an auctioneer apparently auctioning off migrants at USD400 apiece has incensed the region’s lawmakers, prompting them to take a stand. South African MP Dr Santosh Vinita Kalyan moved a motion through which parliamentarians from 13 of the 14 SADC member states demanded decisive action from the African Union and other regional economic communities to bring the perpetrators “of such heinous crimes” inside and outside Libya to justice.
Kalyan described as “disgraceful” reports of African asylum seekers and migrants being sold into slavery in Libya as they try to reach European shores. She enjoined the SADC PF Plenary “to strongly deplore any form of modern day slavery and human trafficking, particularly of women and girls”.
Findings by the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights ascribe slavery in transit countries such as Libya to the European Union’s efforts to curb migration and tighten borders, without providing alternative safe and legal paths for migrants and refugees.
Kalyan condemned the emergence of what she described as modern-day slavery, in which migrants fleeing corruption, oppression and poverty were trying to reach Europe via Libya – only to fall into the clutches of smugglers and beg subjected to heinous abuse.
Reports say the smugglers extort large amounts of money from the illegal migrants to get them across the Mediterranean Sea. Conservative estimates put the number of migrants that have drowned this year while attempting to cross the treacherous sea at 3,000.
Kalyan said Libyan coast guards were reportedly arresting the migrants and taking them to Libyan detention centres where many have been raped, beaten and tortured. Others were being reportedly set upon by smugglers and sold off as either work slaves or sex slaves.
“The EU is as complicit in violating the human rights of those migrants and they turn their heads the other way when the coast guard returns them to Libya. Finding a solution is indeed complex. What is very, very sad that this is a brother upon brother crime,” the tough talking MP said.
Libya is party to the UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery of 1956. The largely lawless north African country has ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of 1986 that expressly prohibits slavery.
Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals requires UN Member States to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
The motion generated passionate debate and widespread support.
Mauritius MP Mahomed Osman Cassam Mahomed told the Plenary that the reported slave trade in Libya had been raised in the Mauritius parliament, where both the opposition and governing political parties strongly condemned it.
MP Ally Ally Saleh from the United Republic of Tanzania said it was “saddening” that slavery had reared its ugly head in Africa, centuries after it was officially abolished. Noting that Zanzibar was a focal point on slave trade a few centuries ago, Ally Saleh blamed the United Nations and the “imperialistic world” for the reported ongoing slave trade in Libya.
“Libya has been a target of the United Nations and the imperialistic world for a long time. They first pushed Libya into being a failed state… Libya is a conduit for most African people seeking greener pastures in the north.
“It is very funny that now the western world is coming out with a Marshall Plan. I don’t know if it will succeed because probably we are reaching a stage whereby not only Libya, but some other people back this notion of slavery in another form,” he said.
Dr Jessie Kabwila, an MP from Malawi who chairs the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus of SADC PF, called for a media strategy to amplify the SADC region’s indignation over the reported slave trade in Libya.
Swaziland’s Jomo Mfanawemakhosi Dhlamini, also an MP, said what was happening in Libya was tantamount to a vote of no-confidence in Africa.
“Have we not failed to do the right thing? Why should somebody subject themselves to that situation? The lack of opportunity, education and so on eventually leads to people subjecting themselves to this. I condemn the slave trade.
“Africa must look within. Africa must stop blaming others. Africa must be honest with itself. Have we done the right thing with all [resources] that we have? I don’t see Europeans migrating to Africa and risking their lives. I don’t see Americans, maybe Asians,” he said.
Dhlamini further said the fact that people were being sold to go and dig was proof that the majority of the people who were being sold “have no particular skill, so they find themselves in that situation”.
“Please, let’s once again organise ourselves. We have enough resources… Without proper education, there is no hope. Let us reenergise ourselves to invest in education, because if people are unskilled and uneducated, they will always be ready to do anything,” he added. Zimbabwe’s Dr Samuel Mukanduri MP said: “This is a very sad story… Nowadays we sell goods on the market, but in Libya we hear stories that people instead of goods, human beings are being sold like goods. Like tomatoes!
“Why? It is because we have let the imperialists devastate our economies. People are going to Europe, because they know that our resources have been looted in Africa and they want to go and benefit from their sweat.”
He called for political systems that create economic opportunities that benefit people. “We should not let people loot. Those people in positions should desist from corrupt activities, because this will disadvantage the citizens of our countries.”
Another Swaziland Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu MP said what was happening in Libya was symptomatic of retrogression. “It looks like we are moving back centuries. This is a trade that used to happen many years ago and definitely, it doesn’t have a place in our world today.
“It deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms possible. Why would the world move back when we are supposed to be moving forward? It means there is something seriously wrong that we have to address,” he opined. He appealed to the AU, the EU and the UN to come on board, “so that this modern-day slavery is fought with everything at our disposal”.
South African MP Ahmed Shaik-Emam called on all parliamentarians to support the motion and “condemn these barbaric acts of enslavement (and) call for action against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.” He slammed the UN and the AU for failing to deal with the problems in Libya.
“Not long ago, Libya used to provide free housing, free health care and free education… but because of what the West has done in Libya, today we have a crisis. But having said that, it doesn’t mean that if they have a challenge they must behave in the way that they are behaving and abuse innocent people and violate their human rights.”
Namibian MP Sophia Swartz called for a clear understanding of what prompted the slave trade in Libya. “Each country, what is going on in your country? If you are a political leader, see that people on the ground benefit,” she said, adding that foreign direct investment must seek to empower local people.
“If we are not doing those things, (our people) will run away looking for greener pastures and this will go on and on. As MPs we have an oversight function and must ensure that investors who come enter into deals that benefit ordinary people as well.”
* Moses Magadza is communications and advocacy specialist at SADC PF.