The UN Security Council on Thursday said reports that migrants detained in Libyan camps were being sold into slavery could amount to “crimes against humanity” in a joint statement of condemnation.
It follows global shock over the atrocities suffered in Libya by African migrants, many of whom are trying to reach Europe, brought home by a CNN report showing people being sold as slaves.
The council said it “condemns such actions as heinous abuses of human rights which may also amount to crimes against humanity,” according to the statement, which was drafted by Britain.
It added it was essential “to transfer detainees to State authorities and encourages the Libyan authorities to reinforce their cooperation with international organisation and UN agencies and to ensure humanitarian access to detention centres.”
Since the 2011 collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, Libya has been riven by fighting between militias which hold captives. Libyan authorities exercise little control over them.
“The Security Council emphasizes that a stable Libya is the only way to help improve the living conditions of all people in Libya, including migrants,” the resolution added.
It is rare for a UN resolution to single out a specific country when talking about slavery, a phenomenon that is normally discussed in the context of global rights abuses.
Revelations of slave auctions have prompted several African countries backed by the UN to begin evacuation operations aimed at bringing their nationals home.
According to the UN, the Libyan government controls around 30 detention centres with some 15,000 people — but the number of refugees and migrants in the hands of traffickers and smugglers under the protection of militias is much higher.
Following the reading of the statement, the deputy representative of Russia to the UN, Petr Iliichev, said he regretted that it failed to mention “the origin of the chaos” in Libya, a clause proposed by Moscow but not retained in the final text.
Russia has long accused France, the United Kingdom and the United States of having contributed militarily to the overthrow of Gaddafi during an operation originally presented as a humanitarian mission.