Representative Says Country Targeted in Media Campaign of Defamation, Cannot Be Held Responsible for Problems It Did Not Cause
Slavery and other grave human rights abuses affecting migrants and refugees travelling to North Africa and beyond constituted an abomination that could no longer be ignored, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the Security Council today.
Filippo Grandi said more than 116,000 people had crossed the sea from North Africa to Italy in 2017, many of them refugees. The international community’s inability to prevent and resolve conflict was at the root of their flight, he explained, adding that they were exposed to appalling harm, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour. More than 17,000 refugees and migrants were currently detained in Libya, and many more were held by traffickers under the protection of well‑known militias.
He went on to state that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had successfully secured the release of almost 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees in 2017. Plans for a transit centre in Tripoli were awaiting endorsement by Libya’s Government of National Accord, he said, adding that he had called for 40,000 additional resettlement places in transit and asylum countries along central Mediterranean routes. However, to date, there were indications of just 10,500 places.
Robust measures were required to address human trafficking, for which UNHCR had made specific recommendations, including the freezing of assets, travel bans, disruption of revenues and materials, and robust prosecution of traffickers. Too often, previous methods had centred on how to control and deter, which could have a dehumanizing effect, he said, underlining the need for comprehensive investment in a set of political, security and human rights solutions. The Council’s leadership was critical to ensuring that outcome.
Also briefing the Council, William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that since the crisis in Libya, the agency had been trying to empty the detention centres. IOM was working with Libyan authorities and many other partners, he said, pointing out that it was the agency that had broken the story about slave trading. “It’s all about saving lives,” he said, emphasizing that he needed agreement from the Government to empty the centres. Staff were also needed to provide travel documents so that the vast majority of migrants who wished to go home could do so.
Other delegates went on to condemn the slave trading, stressing that it constituted crimes against humanity. They called for an end to impunity, including through investigations by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Many speakers welcomed efforts to ensure humane treatment for migrants and refugees, including those initiated by IOM and UNHCR. Several speakers also called for support for the Libyan Government’s efforts to solidify its institutions, including the security sector, while underlining the need for a political solution to the situation there.
France’s representative said trafficking in persons constituted a major source of financing for terrorists and other armed groups, as well as a threat to international security. He emphasized the need to leverage all international justice resources in order to hold the perpetrators accountable, including through sanctions targeting individuals. Impunity could not be tolerated, he stressed.
Italy’s representative said human mobility and the situation in Libya remained at the centre of his country’s actions at the United Nations and in its November Council Presidency. Resolution 2388 (2017) underscored that trafficking and the smuggling of persons in the Sahel were further exacerbating conflict and instability in that region, he said, adding that it provided the legal basis for a victim‑centred approach.
Libya’s representative pledged that none of the perpetrators of the sale of human beings would be allowed impunity, while emphasizing that his country was undergoing a crisis of instability and could not bear the full burden of migrant flows through its territory. Describing Libya as the victim of a large‑scale media campaign of defamation, he said the international community must address the problem effectively by dealing with its root causes instead of contributing to the further defamation of his country. Hundreds of thousands of people were transiting through Libya during a very difficult time in its history, and the country should not be held responsible for international problems that it had not caused, he emphasized.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sweden, Uruguay, Japan, United States, Senegal, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Ukraine and Bolivia.
The meeting began at 9:07 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m.
FILIPPO GRANDI, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described slavery and other grave human rights abuses affecting migrants and refugees travelling towards North Africa and beyond as an abomination that could no longer be ignored. More than 116,000 people had crossed the sea from North Africa to Italy in 2017, many of them refugees. The international community’s inability to prevent and resolve conflict was at the root of their flight, he said, adding that they were exposed to appalling harm, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour.
The situation in Libya was emblematic, he continued. More than 17,000 refugees and migrants were currently in detention, and many more were held by traffickers under the protection of well‑known militias. Bringing perpetrators to justice would be closely linked to progress on political solutions and functioning governance structures, he emphasized. Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had successfully secured the release of almost 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees in 2017, and plans for a transit centre in Tripoli were awaiting the Government’s endorsement, he said, adding that progress was discernible but modest. Security remained volatile, access to key locations was not possible and United Nations operations were managed remotely from Tunisia.
Rescue at sea remained a compelling imperative, he continued. Support for Libya’s border management authorities, including the coast guard, must be complemented by broader measures to strengthen reception and asylum systems, he said, stressing the need for more safe and legal pathways, including greater opportunities for resettlement and family reunification. He said that he had called for 40,000 additional resettlement places for transit and asylum countries along central Mediterranean routes, but to date, there were indications of just 10,500 places. He said that his Office also supported efforts to accelerate the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin, in conjunction with UNHCR engagement in identifying asylum seekers and refugees in need of international protection.
UNHCR also stood ready to work with Governments to strengthen refugees’ access to protection and solutions in the first country they reached, but the required resources were currently lacking, he said. Robust measures were required to address human trafficking, for which UNHCR had made specific recommendations, including the freezing of assets, travel bans, disruption of revenues and materials, and robust prosecution of traffickers. Too often, methods had centred on how to control and deter, which could have a dehumanizing effect, he said, underlining the need for comprehensive investments in a set of political, security and human rights solutions. The Council’s leadership was critical to ensuring that that happened.
WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that since the crisis in Libya, the agency had been trying to empty the detention centres so that smugglers would not be able to pursue their crimes. IOM was working with Libyan authorities and many other partners, he said, pointing out that it was the agency that had broken the story about slave trading. “It’s all about saving lives, and all of the elements are there now,” he said, while emphasizing that he needed agreement from the Government to empty the centres and the ability to land large aircraft for that purpose. Staff were needed to provide travel documents so that the vast majority of migrants wishing to return home could do so, noting that reintegration in the home countries would then be required. The continued help of the African Union, the European Union and other partners was needed for those purposes.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) welcomed the announcement of investigations into slave trading in Libya and called for all to ensure that those responsible were held to account. Migration must be safe, legal and well‑managed, and its root causes addressed, he emphasized. The United Kingdom would continue to work with the authorities on improving the centres under their control and providing other assistance, but a stable Libya was the most important element in improving the situation. Efforts to combat terrorism must be integrated with anti‑trafficking initiatives into “a holistic, cross‑pillar approach” by the United Nations, he said. Reaffirming that the existence of slavery was reprehensible, he said it was only through sustained, united action that it could be eradicated.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) recalled that his country’s President had called for an emergency meeting to address the intolerable situation of migrants in Libya. France strongly condemned the inhumane treatment of the victims and the violations of their rights, and urged Council members to end the barbaric practice, which constituted crimes against humanity. He called for greater cooperation with the authorities, for fighting impunity, including through the International Criminal Court, and for an urgent global response. Noting that trafficking in persons fuelled conflict and constituted a major source of financing for terrorist and other armed groups, he said it also clearly constituted a threat to international security. Although the Libyan authorities were aware of their duty, the situation in the country must be taken into account, he said, stressing the indispensable need to support the development of Libyan capacities. All international justice resources, including sanctions targeting individuals, must be leveraged to hold perpetrators accountable, he said. Cooperation with origin and transit countries was also needed to help them develop their asylum policies and shore up the protection of their nationals. A lasting settlement of the tragedy would be linked to a solution to the conflict in Libya, which needed a unified army and coast guard, he said.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), expressing deep concern over the situation of migrants from sub‑Saharan Africa, emphasized that the sale of human beings must be condemned in the strongest terms. The Council must send a strong message on the matter, and urgent action was also needed to dismantle the detention camps, end the trafficking and investigate the crimes being committed. Strengthening Libyan capacity for that purpose was critical, he stressed. All relevant United Nations agencies must be engaged in actions to end human trafficking, protect victims and address root causes, such as the extreme poverty that forced young people to undertake such a dangerous journey. In addition, there was a need to pursue assistance to refugees and migrants, and to expand opportunities for resettlement. He welcomed Rwanda’s initiative to accept at‑risk migrants. Stressing that Libya must return to stability through the accepted political framework, he voiced hope that the Council would send the right signal to end the unacceptable practice of profiting from the sale of human beings.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said a concerted international effort was needed to fight the exploitation of migrants and to address the root causes of their plight. He condemned the trade in human beings and welcomed Libya’s announcement that it would investigate and punish those responsible. Egypt would offer any help needed for that purpose, he said, noting his country’s ongoing support for efforts to enable Libya’s people to reach an accepted and sustainable solution to their country’s current crisis. Expressing concern over security in the Sahel region, he stressed the importance of the G5 Sahel joint force in confronting the risks, and affirmed the international responsibility to support that initiative. Migration flows must be managed, assistance provided to migrants and development accelerated in their countries of origin, he said.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said he had been horrified by the recent video footage of reported slave markets in Libya, the latest in a litany of abuses suffered by refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons there. The Council must demand accountability, he said, welcoming the Government’s announcement of an investigation and the United Nations initiative to work with the authorities on a transparent monitoring mechanism to safeguard vulnerable groups. Sweden would welcome a report by the Secretary‑General to the Council on the matter of slavery, he said, calling for a fact‑finding mission to Libya. In addition, Sweden supported the initiative by the office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to explore the possibility of investigating crimes related to human trafficking and smuggling, and was open to the use of sanctions to target those crimes. The humanitarian situation must be improved, he went on, calling on Libyan authorities to ensure full humanitarian access to detention centres. It was crucial to find sustainable alternatives to detention, especially for vulnerable groups, he said, adding that Sweden supported UNHCR efforts to protect the needs of refugees, including through its Emergency Evacuation and Temporary Resettlement Mechanism.
LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), noting that reports about the operation of slave markets had been emerging from Libya and other countries, said it was necessary to take concrete actions in response. While States had failed in the past to address the issue collectively, there was still time to hold those responsible to account. Hundreds of thousands of sub‑Saharan immigrants had been subjected to actions constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations must take up its responsibility to help the Libyan authorities protect the most vulnerable migrants. Condemning human trafficking and crimes that exploited and dehumanized vulnerable people, he said the proliferation of armed conflict in the region had triggered a raft of consequences, including unprecedented mass migration. The plight of refugees was seen as a “lucky break” by those profiting from their plight, he said, emphasizing that the problem was not a matter of concern for the countries of origin alone, but also for transit countries. Therefore, efforts to tackle the issue required a common purpose, he said, stressing also that States must promote and protect the fundamental human rights of all migrants, irrespective of their status.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the international community must make the utmost efforts to eliminate human trafficking, forced labour, slavery and similar practices. Calling upon the Libyan Government to ensure justice and accountability on the part of those responsible for selling migrants into slavery, he expressed hope that such action would deter similar crimes in the future. There was a need to solidify Government institutions, including the security sector, and to address the root causes of forced migration, he said. The Council must address the trafficking of migrants by working not only with Libya, but also with other Member States in the region and with regional organizations, he added.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said many disturbing reports had emerged about the treatment of asylum seekers in Libya, where human traffickers detained them in appalling conditions. They were forced to work, or sold off to the highest bidder. As such, the United States welcomed efforts to ensure humane treatment for migrants and refugees, including those initiated by IOM and UNHCR, she said, noting that her country had contributed generously to such programmes, including $100 million to help migrants in Libya and those displaced internally by violence. The only long‑term solution to the challenge was to stabilize Libya, she said, noting that smuggling networks also trafficked in arms and narcotics, thereby contributing to instability and affecting the entire Mediterranean and Sahel regions. Any opportunity to disrupt that cycle should be taken, she said, stressing that Council members should recommit to a secure Libya and fully support the Libyan Political Agreement. As such, all actors should engage with the United Nations in good faith, she said, cautioning that any attempt to impose a military solution would only destabilize the country further.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal), stating that today’s briefings confirmed the scope, gravity and complexity of the situation of sub‑Saharan African migrants, reaffirmed his delegation’s condemnation of trafficking in human beings. Senegal had arranged the repatriation of some of its own citizens in dangerous migratory situations, he said, welcoming Libya’s decision to open an investigation into the reports of slave trading. It was vital to ensure accountability for such crimes, and if national justice systems were not up to that task, international justice must step in, he said, stressing the importance of regional and international cooperation as well as sharing of information for that purpose. As for Libya, only when that country was united under a stable Government with unified institutions would it be able to exercise control over all its territory, he said. More generally, a global approach would be needed to promote both development and regular migration, based on human rights and addressing root causes of conflict, including instability and poverty. Senegal would support a presidential statement for that purpose.
SHEN BO (China) said that international cooperation should help to alleviate the migration crisis and also focus on a political resolution of the crisis in Libya. China supported any effort to help Libyans reach that goal through dialogue and negotiation. The international community should also be united in fighting terrorism and recruitment by extremists, by addressing root causes, strengthening border controls and implementing all the provisions of Council resolutions, he emphasized. Resolutions against trafficking must also be implemented, while root causes must be addressed through implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China would continue to contribute to such efforts and to work for stability in Libya, he pledged.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan), expressing deep concern over the plight of refugees, joined fellow members in condemning the sale of human beings, and in calling for the urgent investigation and prosecution of those involved in such heinous crimes. There must be cooperation among security agencies to end all human trafficking, he emphasized, calling also for orderly regular migration, investment in development and a political settlement to the crisis in Libya.
EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said that, considering the transnational nature of human trafficking and other crimes related to armed conflict, only a comprehensive approach could succeed in tackling them. It must include assistance for victims and address the situation’s root causes. The Libya situation constituted a grave and protracted crisis spawned by the 2011 intervention in the country’s internal issues, and the result was persistent political factionalism. Efforts to counter criminal activity related to migration and to deliver assistance to victims must be supported. Stressing the need for wide‑ranging dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, he said only lasting peace could lead to lasting alleviation of the refugee and migrant issue. There had been intimations about the need for an urgent intervention, but those who relished taking on such issues independently and in breach of State sovereignty would only exacerbate the already difficult situation that had emerged in Libya, he warned. Against such a backdrop, it would be highly valuable to shore up cooperation with the African Union, he emphasized.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said the situation in Libya had a direct impact on the stability of neighbouring States, the Sahel and the Mediterranean. Because of the current crisis, the latter region was facing a number of challenges, including terrorist threats and irregular migration flows. He strongly condemned the human rights violations taking place in Libyan detention centres where African migrants were being systematically abused and harassed, describing reports of slave auctions as shocking and horrifying. He appealed to all competent authorities in the country to investigate such activities and to hold those responsible accountable, while encouraging the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate such atrocities. Nevertheless, the migrant situation in Libya was among many factors contributing to ongoing instability, as criminal networks exploited the lack of political progress and the resulting security vacuum. Arbitrary detention, torture, kidnappings, unlawful killings, trafficking in persons, as well as arms and drug smuggling, had all become a daily reality, he said, stressing that only a comprehensive approach to the current conflict’s root cause could alleviate the suffering of Libya’s people.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), associating himself with the African Union, agreed that practices relating to human enslavement must be stamped out, expressing support for the regional bloc’s appeal for an investigation to identify those responsible and hold them accountable. According to data compiled by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and IOM, more than 40 million people had been subjected to some form of modern slavery in 2016, and one in four of them had been children, he noted. Investigations by Libya’s Government were currently under way to identify those responsible for such acts, which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, in which case the role of the International Criminal Court must be recognized. It was necessary to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes were prosecuted, he said, describing trafficking as a “parasitic” crime that exploited inaction. It was also important to recall that the Libya crisis and its broader fallout were the direct result of meddling in the country’s internal affairs — in violation of international law — which had left millions of victims.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, saying his country had facilitated meetings in Tripoli on the situation with the aim of providing the highest standards of humanitarian assistance and respect for human rights. Human mobility and the situation in Libya remained at the centre of Italy’s actions at the United Nations and of its Council Presidency, he said, recalling that earlier in the month, his delegation had organized an open debate on trafficking as well as a meeting dedicated to the political situation in Libya. As such, the Council had unanimously adopted resolution 2388 (2017), which underscored that trafficking and the smuggling of persons in the Sahel region were further exacerbating conflict and instability. That text provided a legal basis for a victim‑centred approach and highlighted that human trafficking entailed widespread and grave human rights abuses. Recent reports showing migrants sold as slaves were sickening, he said, condemning such actions. Italy welcomed remarks by the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union on the bloc’s initiative to address the plight of African migrants in Libya. Emphasizing that migration flows should not be managed at the expense of human rights, he said Italy’s approach had always combined solidarity and security. The solution to the Libya crisis must be political, he stressed, calling upon members to help the country on its path to security and stability.
ELMAHDI S. ELMAJERBI (Libya) condemned any sale of migrants by whomever was committing such crimes, pledging that if the reports proved true, the perpetrators would not be allowed impunity. Libyan laws criminalized trafficking in persons and slavery, he said, pointing out that such practices also violated basic Libyan values. The country was going through a crisis of instability and could not bear the full burden of migrant flows, a problem that it had not created. The issue must be addressed in origin and destination countries, he said, arguing that without problems in those countries and international trafficking networks, the problem would not exist in Libya. Similarly, simply forcing migrants leaving Libya back to the country would exacerbate both their own situation and that of the country, he said, adding that resettling them would further destabilize Libya. Destination countries must not shirk their responsibilities, he stressed.
Libya, meanwhile, was the victim of a large‑scale media campaign of defamation following the release of the slave‑trading images, he continued. Insisting that his country was not racist, he said it had absorbed many foreign workers and would absorb more when stability was restored and reconstruction began. The international community must address the problem through an effective approach dealing with root causes instead of contributing to the further defamation of Libya. Further support for efforts to unify the country and rebuild its institutions was also essential. Part of the solution would also entail repatriation to origin countries and greater migration opportunities. With hundreds of thousands of people transiting through Libya during a very difficult time in its history, the country should not be held responsible for international problems it had not caused, he emphasized, while expressing appreciation for the work of UNHCR and welcoming the cooperation between that agency and IOM.