UN must take tougher actions against modern slavery

Today, the world is being horrified by images of African migrants being sold as ‘goods’ in Libya. Slavery is one of the most egregious abuses of human rights which should no longer have a place in the world – in the 21st century.

Today, the world is being horrified by images of African migrants being sold as ‘goods’ in Libya. Slavery is one of the most egregious abuses of human rights which should no longer have a place in the world – in the 21st century. Horrible images have shown refugees and migrants being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets. Libya has become a notorious marketplace of such sordid acts. It is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea. These refugees and migrants are from several African countries. They are running away from wars, poverty and unemployment in their countries. They make perilous journey through the desert and pay smugglers to help them cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

As a consequence, it has galvanised international action. From the face of it, it seems Libya’s UN-backed government is unable to control this threat. According to latest reports, the trade works by preying on the tens of thousands of vulnerable people who risk everything to get to Libya’s coast and then cross the Mediterranean into Europe – a route that has been described as the most perilous journey on earth.

In principle, for any government, to be called effective, it must be able to assert powers and control all activities on its territory. It is a primary responsibility of every State. If the State fails, then the responsibility may shift to the international community, as a whole.

It is against this backdrop that UN Security Council, on Tuesday last week, adopted a non-binding resolution titled “Security Council Reiterates its Condemnation of Trafficking in Persons, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2388 (2017)”. Though UN Security is apparently seized of the matter, its resolution is short of a mandatory language, which is normally required in such circumstances. To prove to the public that it is taking decisive action, UN Security Council must act under Chapter 7, the fundamental basis of the Council’s binding decisions. In tense circumstances, more often than not the Council uses a mandatory language rather than an exhortatory language. It used words such as: urges, calls upon, condemns, reiterates and so forth. The resolution lacks wording like ‘authorises’ and ‘decides’ which are typically used in the Council’s binding decisions and must act under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Similarly, in a recently-concluded 5th Africa-EU Summit held on November 29-30, 2017 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, leaders vowed to take an emergency evacuation operation of migrants who are threatened by people traffickers in Libya.

Some of these refugees and migrants have been trafficked to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ‘Da’esh’). Such violations and abuses are committed by Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other organised criminal groups for the purpose of sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour.

It is extremely sad to imagine slavery recurring in such modern times given existing international legal frameworks, namely United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, which is supplemented by both ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children’ and ‘Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air’. Additionally, there’s the September 2017 Political Declaration on the implementation of the Global Plan of Action.

Despite lack of a universal instrument that addresses all aspects of trafficking in persons – other than domestic laws – the preceding instruments contain provisions and practical measures to combat the exploitation of persons, in general, not only those related to women and children.

UN Security Council should take tougher measures rather than making mere condemnation. Effective action to prevent and combat trafficking in persons requires a comprehensive international approach in the countries of origin, transit and destination that includes measures to prevent such trafficking, to punish the traffickers and to protect the victims of such trafficking, including by protecting their internationally recognised human rights. To be more pragmatic, the Council must authorise deployment of peacekeeping and political missions in Libya, which has turned out to be a gateway, to deter and combat trafficking of persons. Aside from this, they must conduct investigations into the reported human rights abuses to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes.

Second is to support Libya to have effective State institutions with the aim to achieve immediate national priorities and support implementation of the political agreements. This would encourage a safe and neutral platform within the framework of political dialogue to foster confidence between and amongst different stakeholders. Terrorist groups and other opportunists are trying to fish in troubled waters of Libya.

In its limited resources, the Government of Rwanda deserves applause for the offer to host up to 30,000 African immigrants currently stuck in Libya where they are exposed to all forms of abuse, including being sold openly in slave markets in the Northern Africa country. This calls for other African countries to follow suit and support our brothers and sisters facing sordid acts.

This wretched drama indeed calls for a sense of responsibility to take all urgent measures to put an end to this abhorrent practice, which should no longer have a place in contemporary world.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not
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of The New Times.