In 2001, the UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in South Africa, issued the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, which included the phrase, “slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so.”
Annually, usually in March, the U.N. commemorates the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and podium speakers repeat that “crime against humanity” phrase and a commitment not to allow the world to bring back slavery and the slave trade.
In the U.S.A., the coerced immigration from the African Slave Trade officially (if not literally) ended, to be replaced by the much larger chattel-producing domestic slave trade (involving slave breeding and long slave coffles moving South).
How is it then that a modern African country, partially caused by USA involvement, can recreate a new and large-scale slave trading operation with thousands of victims, especially women and children, and the world does not react with forcible and immediate closure? This October, CNN reported that its staffers directly observed a slave auction in Libya, and were told about nine other sites that conducted the same type of slave sale ritual. This had been going on for over a year, at least.
Since then, other reliable sources have verified CNN’s account and a public video of the slave auctions has been widely distributed. Most of the slaves are migrants from other West African countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Ivory Coast, who are committed to traveling across the Sahara Desert to the Mediterranean Coast to try their luck gaining entry into Italy, Greece or any other European country. They believe strongly that there are employment and commercial opportunities across the Mediterranean that they will never get in their home countries. These migrants generally contract with a middleman agent who promises to guide them along the treacherous journey to their Mediterranean destination, for a significant fee. A few migrants have actually made the journey safely and either drowned at sea on a rickety boat or were rescued by a European Coast Guard unit.
Lately, however, the middleman agents are often guaranteed even more money for guiding those migrants into holding pens, where they are examined and then sold into slavery for agricultural labor or for sex trafficking. The agents get double the money for this dubious double-dealing and the Africans just get hoodwinked into forced labor for no money.
Thus far neither the UN nor the African Union has fully cracked down on this emerging problem, though both organizations have condemned the reemergence of slavery and slave trading in Africa. There is an AU Executive Committee meeting coming up this month which advocates hope will discuss this issue and push African solutions to it. There is then the annual AU Assembly Heads of States meeting in January at which the issue can be debated and a solution decided upon.
Meanwhile, most other serious African progressive organizations have already come out with ringing denunciations of this new/old practice. The justly-celebrated Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.-37), ranking member of the House Sub-Committee on Africa has taken to the national legislature and introduced a bill, stating that: “The shocking images that emerged last week of African people for sale in Libya is a crime against humanity. The time for the international community to act is now. If Libyans cannot end slave auctions, then the international community will be required to step in immediately,” Rep. Bass’ legislation is a resolution that directs the Trump Administration to develop immediate strategies that respond to the overall African migrant and refugee situation in Libya, that requires the government of Libya to right now do a thorough investigation into the slave auctions taking place in its country, and the resolution requests that the African Union conduct its own investigation of this slave issue.
Well done, Congresswoman.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.