In recent months, it has been revealed that African migrants and refugees have been sold in open markets as slaves in Libya, and are held against their will in inhumane conditions in exchange for ransom money.It's unlikely that human trafficking networks have prospered without the support they enjoyed from the Gaddafi regime; however, since his demise, much-needed light has finally been shined on them.
Human trafficking networks have prospered amid lawlessness, created by the warring militias that have been fighting for control of territories since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
What those unfamiliar with recent Libyan history don't see is that the type of slave trade CNN reported on is not something new, or the product of the chaos and criminality that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi. Rather it is one of the surviving remnants of a system that exploited the flow of refugees and migrants for profit for decades under Gaddafi.
This was a system that used the desperation of Sub-Saharan Africans that, in some cases, were fleeing violence and repression in their own countries that Gaddafi's Libya had helped stoke. The Arab Jamahiriya of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was an extremely racist system in which migrant traffickers worked closely with the state security agencies to extort every penny from dirt-poor migrants, and their families back home, with threats of indefinite detention or death. Those that could not pay might be left to die in the desert or sold as unpaid forced laborers in what many would call "slave auctions," that were regularly conducted by Gaddafi's government.
“The desert is much harder than the sea."
- H.M.D., Darfurian asylum-seeker in Italy
What is out of sight is often out of mind, so there were few complaints about the thousand of migrants who never made it to the Mediterranean because Colonel Gaddafi's regime stranded them out in the desert where they died horrible, slow deaths. We know about the "slave auctions" CNN reported on, and many other things both good and bad in Libya today because now the press enjoys freedoms it never had while Gaddafi ruled.
Sara Hamood did a report in 2006 for the American University in Cairo titled "African Transit Migration Through Libya to Europe: The Human Cost" that I will cite extensively. It noted the difficulties in getting information about Gaddafi's Libya:
Existing research on Libya remains limited, in part due to the closed nature of the country restricting the ability to conduct field work, and in part to marginal international interest.Human Rights Watch had similar problems operating in a police state. When HRW visited Libya in 2005, they noted:
In addition, the political system of the Jamahiriya has left little, if any, space for an independent civil society to grow outside the officially sanctioned structures...
[T]he first migrant our researchers interviewed on the street was arrested one hour later.Today, while Libya, like much of the Middle East and North Africa, remains a challenging environment for reporters, they no longer face Gaddafi's absolute ban on independent media.
This is the CNN report that broke the news of slave auctions in post Gaddafi Libya. As devastating as it was for the image of the new Libya, it was itself one of the fruits of that victory. It revealed a practice that had gone on in Libya long before the press was able to report on it:
Exclusive Report: People for sale
Where lives are auctioned for $400
14 November 2017
By Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek, Alex Platt and Bryony Jones
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- "Eight hundred," says the auctioneer. "900 ... 1,000 ... 1,100 ..." Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars -- the equivalent of $800.
Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not "merchandise" at all, but two human beings.
One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants.
He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of "big strong boys for farm work," according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand -- resting proprietorially on the man's shoulder -- is visible in the brief clip.
After seeing footage of this slave auction, CNN worked to verify its authenticity and traveled to Libya to investigate further.
Carrying concealed cameras into a property outside the capital of Tripoli last month, we witness a dozen people go "under the hammer" in the space of six or seven minutes. More...
While this was widely treated as a new development and a result of the chaos that resulted from NATO supported "regime change" in Libya, the truth is that what CNN discovered is but a surviving remnant of a state organized and controlled regime for the systematic exploitation of migrants and refugees, that included the regularized sale of sub-Saharan African migrates for indeterminate periods of unpaid forced involuntary servitude in Libya while Muammar Gaddafi was in power.
Gaddafi's Libya was a police state
This is the context for everything to be examined later. The Libya Gaddafi ruled was a poorly run police state. In 2004 Amnesty International did its first country report on Libya in 15 years. They had some problems with government policy:
It includes the policy of “physical liquidation” of political opponents of the 1980s; numerous deaths in custody without adequate explanation; the “disappearance” of political prisoners, especially since 1996; and the “disappearance” of Libyan nationals abroad and foreign nationals visiting Libya. Hundreds of families still do not know whether their relatives are alive or dead, or how they died. Many are too scared to ask about their relatives for fear of retaliation.The report documented a number of such cases in detail, and also noted:
In 1980 the Libyan authorities introduced a policy of extrajudicial executions of political opponents, termed “stray dogs”. The policy, known as “physical liquidation”, seemed to have been endorsed at the highest levels.It added:
In recent years, the Libyan authorities have used the international context and the language of the “war on terror” to further justify the continuation of a repressive policy at home which severely curtails the right of Libyan citizens to freedom of expression and association. The “counter-terrorism” argument is clearly used as a new justification for an old practice, enshrined in Libyan law, of repression of all political dissent.AI also had some specific criticisms of Libyan law under Gaddafi, and highlighted these:
The New York Times reported on conditions in Libya two years before the uprising:
- Law 71 of 1972 bans any form of group activity based on a political ideology opposed to the principles of al-Fateh Revolution of 1 September 1969.
- Article 3 of Law 71 provides for the death penalty for forming, joining or supporting groups prohibited by law..
- Article 206 of the Penal Code (Law 48 of 1956) provides for the death penalty for those who call “for the establishment of any grouping, organization or association proscribed by law”, and even for those who belong to or support such an organization.
- Article 208, which bans forming or joining an international association, states that “The punishment is imprisonment for whoever sets up, establishes, organizes or directs international non-political organizations, associations or bodies, or a branch thereof, without government authorization, or where such authorization is based on false or insufficient information.”
- Article 178 prescribes life imprisonment for the dissemination of information considered to “tarnish [the country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad.”
- Article 207 states that “The punishment is execution for whoever spreads within the country, by whatever means, theories or principles aiming to change the basic principles of the Constitution or the fundamental structures of the social system or to overthrow the state’s political, social or economic structures or destroy any of the fundamental structures of the social system using violence, terrorism or any other unlawful means.”
The death penalty for illegal immigration was a brutal Libyan reality for many. One unsubstantiated, but frantic claim came from Thomas Adejo, Kaduna who reported on 6 August 2009:
A Leader Beyond Reproach Limits the Possibilities for Political Change
By Michael Slackman
TRIPOLI, Libya — Step one block off almost any main road and the streets here are badly damaged or completely unpaved. There are problems with the schools, the health care system and the government bureaucracy, which is plagued by corruption and inefficiency. Untreated sewage is dumped right into the Mediterranean.
Libya is a police state, but the trains still do not run on time.
“We don’t need money,” said Nadia Ali, 35, at one of the forums in Tripoli [called to discuss Colonel Gaddafi's proposal to abolish the government and just divide the oil money among the people] “We need roads, we need health care, we need education, we need an economy.”
The minister of economics, trade and investment sits in a building at the end of a rutted dirt field. Where are the roads?
The police here do not tolerate public criticism, and people still disappear in the night.
This report was followed by a call to the Nigerian Embassy in Tripoli by Azuoma Anugom and an online discussion among Nigerians attempting to determine what was really going on amongst contradictory reports. One party to this discussion, Remi Ajibewa PhD, told what he had learned about the fate of a group of immigrants on death row in June from a couple of Nigerian embassy employees he had lunch with while in Tripoli for an African Union meeting, 27 June 2009. He said, "I learnt from them that if not for the AU meeting, some illegal immigrants including Nigerians would have been executed late and early July, 2009." Ola Kassim, who sounded like a representative of the Nigerian government, begged off when asked to intervene on behalf of the condemned immigrants. He said it would be one thing if Libya were executing them merely for being in the country illegally, because no country does that, but:
Libya to execute 220 illegal aliens
Over 220 illegal immigrants in Libya mostly Nigerians may be executed before tomorrow morning, New Nigerian has learnt. A source said that out of this number, 30 were allegedly executed in the early hours of yesterday in the prison yard in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. [his emphasis] According to the source, among the Nigerian illegal immigrants awaiting execution in Libya is a 37-year-old Benedict Ukoma Jude from Imo State who was arrested along with other Nigerians for entering the country without valid documents. More...
It is a far much complicated matter if the Nigerians who are currently on death rows in Libyan prisons had been convicted of criminal offences that are punishable by death under Libyan laws.The problem is that in Gaddafi's Libya merely exercising free speech or supporting a prohibited organization could earn one the death penalty.
Gaddafi's Libya was also a white supremacist state
Gaddafi's Libya was an Arab/white supremacist state, as "Ethnic Conflict in Libya: Toubou," from the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, noted:
For decades, Qaddafi‟s regime pursued national policies of “Arabization” and sought to expel the Toubou, along with other minorities, from Arab Libya. The 1969 Constitutional Declaration defined the state of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, as an “Arab nation and declared Arabic as the only official language.” Subsequent policies deliberately denied basic human and political rights to non-Arab minorities in Libya, including the 2007 withdrawal of citizenship rights.Gaddafi's minority policies were nothing short of genocidal, and his racism and oil money played a leading role in some of the greatest tragedies in Africa, including the Darfur butchery. As the Ethiopian author, poet and journalist Hama Tuma wrote, 3 September 2010:
Gaddafi the racist has for long been also Gaddafi the dictator, killing off his opponents both inside and outside his country, financing the likes of Fode Sankoh in Sierra Leone and meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries like Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Liberia, etc.Migrant sales under Gaddafi
Although the CNN reporters have been able to document a few clandestine "slave auctions" in post-Gaddafi Libya, while he still ruled, nighttime "slave auctions" were conducted 2 or 3 times a week by the manager of a Kufra camp in which of 25 to 30 migrants were sold. Daniel, a 26-year-old Eritrean whose interviews were published by Human Rights Watch in a 2009 report on "Libya's Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers" told us about this:
Every two or three days, the manager of Kufra camp took 25 or 30 persons at night and sold them to Libyan transporters so he could get money from us. Other people were just thrown in the desert. Sometimes they would take people in the desert and run over their legs with a car and just leave them. He sold me with a group of 25 or 30 people to a Libyan man who put us in a big house in Kufra and told us we needed to have our families send $200 to pay for our release from Kufra and to take us to Benghazi.Even children were used as slaves. One unaccompanied child, Kofi, an orphan from Ghana, was 16 years old while in Libya for one year in 2007. Kofi spoke of being pressed into forced labor after being detained by the Libyan authorities:
The guard took me out to work on his house. I worked all the time every day for four months, but he never paid me. Then he gave me to an Egyptian woman. I worked on her farm for seven months. She also didn’t pay me, but she at least gave me food and clothes.Gaddafi's Libya also regularly brought slaves back from its "adventures" in other African countries. Speaking of the Gaddafi supported Arab supremacist terror campaigns in Sudan and Mauritania, Jeff Jacoby wrote in the Boston Globe, 2 April 1996:
Tens -- maybe hundreds -- of thousands of black Africans have been captured by government troops and free-lance slavers and carried off into bondage. Often they are sold openly in "cattle markets," sometimes to domestic owners, sometimes to buyers from Chad, Libya and the Persian Gulf states.In 1993, a Washington Post piece noted:
In 1990, Africa Watch concluded that there was evidence of kidnapping, hostage-taking and other monetary transactions involving human beings "on a sufficiently serious scale as to represent a resurgence of slavery." And a declassified report from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum released last May by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) documents how Sudan government troops and armed Arab militias are involved in massacres, kidnapping and the transporting of African Sudanese to Libya.As, we shall see, there can be no doubt that this required the support of the Libyan government.
In March 1996, a US Congressional joint subcommittees hearing on "Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan" was held, and while those two countries were the headliners, the subject of Libya kept popping up. For example, Augustine Lado, President of Pax Sudani, told the hearing:
There has been very critical evidence that the people, our people, some of them were actually sold into slavery in Libya, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Arab world.Charles Jacobs, Ed.D., Research Director, American Anti-Slavery Group told the hearing:
As a result of the war, Arab militias, armed by the government of Khartoum raid African villages, shoot the men and enslave the women and children. These are either kept as individual booty by the militias, sold north, or, as a recently declassified U.S. State Department document contends, trucked into Khadaffy's Libya.He also said to them:
Equally incomprehensible is the failure of Western human rights organizations to have marshalled public support for these black slaves. Today you are hearing directly from people who have seen slavery and who have interviewed slaves and escaped slaves in Mauritania and Sudan. But in fact evidence of slavery in Sudan, Mauritania and Libya, compiled by the most prestigious and reliable sources has been available for years. If the existence of chattel slavery in the last decade of the 20th Century is tragic; so is the failure of the human rights community to have developed an adequate activist constituency that could come to their aid.He said that in a congressional hearing more than 20 years ago, and it is all still true today, only now we can add the rank hypocrisy of journalists, politicians, and members of the white Left that are suddenly "shocked, shocked" to discover slavery in Libya.
As you become familiar with the history, it becomes clear that the cause of human rights for refugees and immigrants in Libya, let alone the struggles against racism, human trafficking, and slavery in Libya, could make little headway so long as the Gaddafi dictatorship ruled. Nevertheless, the white Left discovered slavery and racist in Libya only after their darling dictator was overthrown, which they see as a US "regime change" operation, not a successful Libyan revolt. Phyllis Bennis examples both these points in her Fortune article, 8 December 2017, titled "How America Bears Responsibility for Libya’s Slave Auctions." After acknowledging that slavery in many parts of the world "go back centuries," she says about what she calls "a new system of slavery":
But the emergence of slave auctions in Libya has a more immediate basis as well: a catastrophic Western military intervention.The word "emergence" puts the lie to her statement. Her interest is in using slavery to attack those that overthrew Gaddafi, not ending slavery in Libya. To do that, you have to start with the truth; and the truth is that this problem didn't just rise up with the fall of Gaddafi; it is the remnants of a regime of slavery that he cultivated for 42 years before Libyans changed that regime. Now they can begin to change this system.
The Exploitation was Systematic
Under the Gaddafi regime, the exploitation of the refugee and migrant flow was systematic and organized by the state. The Hamood report noted:
There are indications that smugglers and police or prison guards may cooperate in order to make financial gains both from receiving payments in exchange for the release of detainees and from facilitating further travel by illegal means within or outside the country.As human rights organization and refugee reports from Libya at the time show, this was something of an understatement. Habtom, a 28-year-old Eritrean man, who arrived in Libya in June 2008, explained:
The police know everything that happens in Libya. They know what is going on with the boats. They get their own share of the money. The only problem comes when the police don’t get their share of the money or too little of it. If the government didn’t like [the migrant smuggling] they wouldn’t do it.That government was the product of 39 years of Gaddafi rule at that point. The Hamood report gives this picture of business as usual, Libyan style:
A stark example of this alleged corruption was related by an Ethiopian man, granted humanitarian status in Italy, YU., who was detained on arrival in Kufra after having crossed the desert in 2002. After about one year of detention without charge or trial for illegal immigration, he was released and told that he should return to Sudan, where he had lived prior to traveling to Libya. He and a group of others were driven to the border with Sudan and at the last minute the Libyan police offered to take them back with them to Kufra for a fee. Each man paid $300 and they were indeed taken back by the police to Kufra. On arrival in Kufra, the police themselves took them to a smuggler who could arrange for their travel to Benghazi.A 2009 Human Rights Watch report on "Libya's Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers," gives us this story:
Aron, a 36-year-old Eritrean who was detained at the airport jail in Tripoli in 2007 said that the cost for a bribe was either $500 in cash or about $800 for a wire transfer. After he paid the bribe, Aron said that a policeman in uniform took him from the jail in the police car and put him on the street in Tripoli. He later made an appointment with the policeman and “gave him money to release my friends.” Aron said, “It’s a rotating business. They take people out in the city, get money, and replace the prisoners with other Africans.”It also tells us the story of Tomas, a 24-year-old Eritrean, that was part of a group of 108 migrants who resisted boarding a clearly unseaworthy vessel in October 2006. Navy officials intervened on the side of the Libyan criminals to force them on the boat:
Once I saw that boat, I knew I would die if I went on it. They forced two people on the boat and the rest of us began fighting them. Many military men came and caught us at the boat.
The smugglers had an agreement with the navy forces to take our money. They put us directly into the navy port office. The people who demanded money from us were wearing navy uniforms. They had an athletic build. They were clearly navy, not coast guard. A high-level naval officer spoke to us.
What surprises me is that the person who told us he would take us to Italy is the same person who arrested us. The ones who arrested us were in civilian clothes. Those who said they were going to take us were in uniforms. But they all arrested us together.
I think the smugglers were 100 percent connected to the police and the military. I saw the officers in uniform with stars on their shoulders talking to the transporters. And the drivers said, “There is no problem,” when we saw the police or military. The smugglers also told us if we didn’t pay them that we would go to prison.
|Immigrant boat picked up off the coast of Libya in 2009|
At the same time, Libya ran an internal and external campaign situating Libya in the African domain and encouraging Africans to come to work in Libya, even by placing advertisements in daily African newspapers (Pliez, 2002).Gaddafi's Libya refused to recognize refugees
The Gaddafi regime took the position that there were no legitimate asylum seekers in Libya and refused to grant anyone refugee status. The Human Rights Watch 2010 report, "Rights on the Line" on abuses against migrants complained:
Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no asylum law or procedure. In April, Libyan Foreign Secretary Moussa Koussa said his country “does not have any refugees but only illegal migrants who break the laws.”Trump would have loved that guy; this guy too: Brigadier General Mohamed Bashir Al Shabbani, the director of the Office of Immigration at the General People’s Committee for Public Security, told HRW:
“There are no refugees in Libya. They are people who sneak into the country illegally and they cannot be described as refugees. Anyone who enters the country without formal documents and permission is arrested.”We can gleam Muammar Gaddafi's views from this report on his 2009 visit to Italy:
During his first visit to Italy in June 2009, Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Gaddafi said that the issue of asylum seekers “is a widespread lie.” He went on to say that Africans are “living in the desert, in the forests, having no identity at all, let alone a political identity. They feel that the North has all the wealth, the money, and so they try to reach it... Millions of people are attracted by Europe, and are trying to get here. Do we really think that millions of people are asylum seekers? It is really a laughable matter.”Libyan oil money to fuel conflicts in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Darfur that many of the refugees were fleeing. In commenting on Gaddafi's EU visit. Hama Tuma said:
Over the years Libya has been accused of racism and of officially provoking the beating and killing of African migrants. Gaddafi’s pan-African pretensions have always appeared shoddy and hollow as a consequence and his recent statement in Europe— calling Africans ignorant and barbarian invaders— has nailed his coffin as an Arab racist.really big money to be made off the African migrants was the millions he got, some say extorted, from the European Union for all that he was doing to suppress that migration, and that was what he was selling in Italy. When he spoke to Italian Senators, 11 June 2009, he told them that the money he was already getting wasn't enough, saying “Many billions of euros are needed to stem the flows of immigrants into the Mediterranean.” The BBC reported on his August 2010 visit:
Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi says the EU should pay Libya at least 5bn euros (£4bn; $6.3bn) a year to stop illegal African immigration and avoid a "black Europe".Needless to say, the millions of euros paid to Libya went straight into bank accounts controlled by Gaddafi with no accountability.
Speaking on a visit to Italy, Col Gaddafi said Europe "could turn into Africa" as "there are millions of Africans who want to come in".
"Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in," said Col Gaddafi, quoted by the AFP news agency.
Human Rights Abuses of Migrants in Gaddafi's Libya
The 2004 HRW report "Closed-door Immigration Policy Is Shameful Vision" elaborates:
Libya’s recent immigration “reforms,” introduced by Colonel Muammar Gadaffi apparently after overtures from Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, resemble a catalogue of human rights abuses against migrants and asylum-seekers. African internees and migrants in Libya are being detained in what one MEP has described as “catastrophic conditions.” And Libya continues forcibly to deport Eritrean refugees to Eritrea, where they face arrest, illegal detention and torture.The Hamood report simply stated:
In Libya, refugees and asylum-seekers are not afforded adequate protection due to unclear policies regulating their stay in the country and to a lack of recognition of the specific legal status of refugeesThe United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also raised these issues with Libya in their 2004 report:
9. CESCR noted that the State does not have a law on asylum-seekers and refugees. It recommended that the State adopt a law establishing national asylum procedures.The US State Department country report on Libya of 23 February 2001 stated:
16. CEDAW remained concerned that Libyan women married to non-Libyan nationals are not granted equal rights with respect to the nationality of their children. It remarked that legal provisions relating to personal status, in particular concerning marriage (including polygamy), child custody, divorce and inheritance, do not provide for equal rights for women and men.
19. CERD noted that the State categorically maintains that racial discrimination does not exist in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. It recommended that the State conduct studies with a view to effectively assessing the occurrence of racial discrimination in the country, and review its assessment accordingly. Furthermore, CERD again took note of the discrepancy between the State’s assessment, according to which Libyan society is ethnically homogenous, and information indicating that Amazigh, Tuareg and Black African populations live in the country.
8 20. CESCR was concerned about the absence of legislation prohibiting racial discrimination, and regretted that not enough information was provided on measures to guarantee that migrant workers are treated on a non-discriminatory basis. It recommended that the State adopt legislative and other measures to prohibit racial discrimination, especially against Black Africans.
21. CESCR expressed concern about domestic legislation prohibiting the use of languages other than Arabic or the registration of non-Arabic names for newborn children.
The Government discriminates against and represses certain minorities and tribal groups. The Government continues to repress banned Islamic groups and exercises tight control over ethnic and tribal minorities, such as Amazighs (Berbers), Tuaregs, and Warfalla tribe members. The Government restricts basic worker rights, uses forced labor, and discriminates against foreign workers. There have been reports of slavery and trafficking in persons.Hamood reported that the Gaddafi regime used the immigration issue to promote racism in a way that is becoming increasingly familiar to Americans:
However, statements by Libyan officials reported in the media more regularly describe the phenomenon of illegal immigration in negative terms, describing it as an “invasion” (AFP, 9 August 2004) and recalling the heavy price Libya has paid for the rise in immigration, especially after the increase in smuggling activities. Migrants are often presented as causing wide-ranging problems in Libya related to health, cultural norms, social relations, and the economic situation. They are also portrayed as bringing about a degradation in the security situation. Thus, they are said to be at the heart of the rise in criminality, the spread of disease (particularly HIV/AIDs), the decline in morality, the economic downturn (brought about by the abundance of cheap labour), and even to be linked to “terrorism.”Hamood reported that these policies had results:
On 21 July 2004, 110 Eritrean nationals were returned from Libya to Eritrea, where they were at risk of torture. On arrival, they were arrested and reportedly held in incommunicado detention - that is without access to the outside world - in a secret prison (Amnesty International, 2004b). Until today, there is no news of their fate and whereabouts.Migrant detention was brutal in Gaddafi's Libya
|Three of some 30 migrants crammed into |
a 24 sq meter cell in Gaddafi era detention.
One day we were singing songs. The guards came and said, “Who is making this noise?” The others said, “The Christians.” They took out the six of us and beat us. They beat the bottom of our feet with a wooden stick. They hit the soles of both of our feet for 5 to 10 minutes. Two guards put a wood plank under our legs. They then tied our legs to the wood. We fell down on our backs, and then they beat our feet. They did this to all six of us. They just beat our feet. They know if you are beaten that you are unable to walk afterwards, but they made us run around the courtyard after beating our feet.Migrants were subjected to very long periods of imprisonment in Gaddafi's Libya. A diplomatic source in Libya told HRW that migrants could be detained “from a few weeks to 20 years.”
Amina, a 19-year-old Somali woman, spoke about her experience in Kufra:
They held us for ransom. They hit me and the others too. They hit us with a special stick for hitting people. Every time the smuggler guard entered the room he beat us. He said that we needed to pay them money.
|Misrata migrant detention center in Gaddafi's Libya|
Throughout this period of detention, they had no access to a lawyer, nor were they presented before a judicial authority. In addition, no trial took place to establish their guilt or innocence, so far as they were aware.Instead of due process, beatings and torture were regularly used to resolve cases, in 2004 Amnesty International told us how:
From the testimonies collected by Amnesty International, it appears that if a detainee “confesses” quickly, they are usually subjected to light beatings or other forms of ill treatment. However, if a detainee refuses to “confess”, torture is used in order to extract a “confession”. The most frequently reported techniques are beatings with electric cables, beatings on the soles of the feet (falaqa), the use of electric shocks and being suspended from a height by the arms.Slavery, called "an obligation to perform labor," was also a feature of Gaddafi's detention system. The 2001 State Department report says:
In its report this year, the Committee of Experts of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) stated that in Libya "persons expressing certain political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system may be punished with penalties of imprisonment," including "an obligation to perform labor." The ILO report also noted that public employees may be sentenced to compulsory labor "as a punishment for breaches of labor discipline or for participation in strikes, even in services whose interruption would not endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or part of the population."
There have been credible reports that the Government arbitrarily has forced some foreign workers into involuntary military service or has coerced them into performing subversive activities against their own countries. Libyans, despite the Penal Code's prohibition on slavery, have been implicated in the purchase of Sudanese slaves, mainly southern Sudanese women and children, who were captured by Sudanese government troops in the ongoing civil war in Sudan.
|Africa migrants detained in Misrata|
Both men and women reported being regularly insulted by guards who used racist remarks.reported on seven Eritrea refugees detained in Libya:
A Sudanese man A.K. reported being detained in al-Janzur Prison, near Tripoli, in 1996 for two days, during which time he, and over 40 other Sudanese arrested alongside him, were made to roll around in dirty water until they became dizzy and immediately forced to stand and run for short distances from wall to wall, causing some to fall to the ground. They also had dirty water poured on their heads. An Eritrean man B.G., granted humanitarian status in Italy in November 2004, also related having to roll around in dirty water, as well as being forced to stand in the burning sun for long periods of time. He was detained for one month in late 2002/early 2003.
D.G., an Eritrean asylum-seeker in Italy, was detained in 2003 for six months in four different locations. He described regular evening beatings, and on one occasion being burnt with a cigarette butt on his leg. He recalls the horrific experience of seeing a newly-arrived inmate, a Chadian, being struck on the head with an iron stick which caused him to fall to the ground. The guards reportedly ignored the fall and continued to beat others. The Chadian detainee died shortly afterwards in the presence of D.G. and the guards.
As documented by Amnesty International, “the practice of unlawful detention after completion of sentence seems to be widespread”
For some 18 months of arbitrary detention, the seven men lived in fear of being deported to Eritrea, where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. They have been moved to several different prisons. In two separate instances, the men described being beaten with sticks; the first time prior to being transported in a lorry into which they were crammed with scores of others. The second time occurred while being transferred from Ghiryan Prison to three other prisons. Michael Yemane Tekle said that he was particularly badly injured on the second occasion and lost consciousness after being hit over the head with a truncheon. During a separate incident, Rezene Issak Yohanns was allegedly beaten by a guard with a wire while in Jdeida Prison in January 2004. The men told Amnesty International: “we just want to get out of detention. We have seen here in prison what we never saw in our country.”They also reported on the death of another Eritrean refugee:
Another Eritrean national, Binyam Abraha, who was in his early 30s and married with one daughter, died in custody on the night of 16-17 September 2003. He was detained in Ghiryan Prison with the seven Eritreans mentioned above. He had reportedly been detained in Libya since early 2002 on alcohol-related charges, for which he had been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. He apparently contracted tuberculosis as a result of poor prison conditions and was allegedly denied access to medical care despite requesting it repeatedly. Just before his death, Masfin Aman Adem and the other Eritrean detainees asked again for Binyam Abraha to be sent to hospital for treatment. Instead he was apparently held in solitary confinement in a dirty room between 5 and 16 September 2003, when he died.One young Eritrean refugee, Ezekiel, had the temerity to appeal to a higher authority when he was mistreated by a guard:
I speak Arabic and I spoke to [name withheld], the man in charge of that police station. I told him that this was unkind, that we had suffered greatly at sea and that the soldiers shouldn’t have taken our money. He demanded to know which soldier had taken the money. When I pointed him out, [name withheld] he had the soldier share the money with him.The most notorious killing in Gaddafi's prison system took place in 1996, although the regime denied it until 2004. It was mentioned in this UN report:
Libyan authorities had failed to adequately address the killings of up to 1,200 prisoners in the Abu Salim Prison, in June 1996. Most killings occurred the day after a riot took place sparked by appalling prison conditions as well as the denial of medical treatment and family visits. Official recognition of the facts came only eight years later, when the Libyan leadership acknowledged in February 2004 that killings did take place.It should be added that in those 8 years, while Gaddafi regime officials continued to deny family visits to the murdered prisoners, they continued accepting family payments into the dead prisoner's welfare fund.
The Abu Salim Prison massacre was far from the only one. It was just the most famous. Abukar, a 25-year-old Somali, was interviewed about a shooting at Ganfuda, a migrant detention center outside of Benghazi, where he had been held for more than a year. First, he spoke about their treatment:
“The guards just keep us locked up here. They humiliate us. They beat us. If we talk to them, they punish us very hard. They hurt us with electricity.”Then on 10 August 2009, he told them about the shooting:
Last night a group of Somalis and Nigerians saw the external gate was open and tried to escape. The guards opened fire on them. There were around 30 guards, but five did the shooting. I could see most of my friends were injured, and some fell to the ground.Somali news sources reported 20 detainees had been shot and killed, Mareeg news website reported on it from Mogadishu:
At least twenty Somalis have been confirmed dead and fifty wounded in Bangazi town in Libya.The Libyan soldiers reportedly used knives and electric machines for torturing the Somali prisoners.Sexual abuse in detention was pervasive
|Women migrants rescued at sea 6 May 2009 © 2009 Enrico Dagnino|
At Misrata, she said, “All of the women had problems from the police. The police came at night and chose ladies to violate.”A 20-year-old Somali man told HRW about a “special house” outside of Tripoli where migrants were held and where women were raped:
The traffickers were involved with the soldiers. They work with the government to keep the special house outside Tripoli. There were 32 of us held in this house, 25 men and 7 women.Daniel, the 26-year-old Eritrean man, was also held in a smuggler’s house in Tripoli where women were preyed upon. He told HRW:
They didn’t respect the women. They saw one girl and admired her. They forced her into a room. She said to me three times, “Why didn’t you save me?” I answered, “What could I do?” She said, “They forced me.” I cried. I couldn’t do anything
Every day, the Libyans came and took women to do whatever they wanted with them.He was also detained in Misrata after being interdicted by the Maltese coast guard in 2005. He said of the detention facility there:
Every night the guards took women for their pleasure. I met one pregnant woman who was ready to give birth. She give birth there in the prison with us.It was even worst in Kufra where "all feared that they would be left in the desert to die," Berihu,
a 32-year-old Eritrean man, described what he saw there:
I saw them take women away. They took a woman with her husband. They made them exit together, but then when they got outside the room, they separated them. They took the wife from the husband and raped her.Route 666 - The migrant ping-pong path through Libya
Sub-Saharan Africans trying to go North for a better life, or to escape war, followed a well traveled route that usually started with paying a smuggler to bring them across the Sahara and the Libyan border to Kurfa. This account from the 2009 HRW report was typical:
The smugglers were drug addicts. They didn’t bring spare parts for the vehicle. We were left stranded in the desert with no food or water. The original agreement was to pay them $250 to go from Khartoum to Kufra. But in the middle of the desert the Sudanese turned us over to the Libyans and they told us we had to pay another $300 or they would abandon us in the Sahara before we reached Libya. About 75 percent of us were able to pay. We paid for the other 25 percent, so no one was left.Once in Kufra, they had to try to find transport to the coast while trying to avoid arrest and detention in its desert outposts. B.M., an Eritrean man, was interviewed in Sudan about this leg of his journey:
On release from seven months’ detention in Kufra in 2004, he explained that he was met by two officials, whom he understood to be the governor of Kufra and the Director of the Prison. They asked him how he had travelled to Libya and he replied that he had come by means of a smuggler. The officials went on to offer to organize to take him and a group of 127 Ethiopians, who were released at the same time, to Benghazi for a fee of $200 per person. When the detainees said that they did not have the money to pay such a fee, they were transferred some 5 km into the desert to a detention camp and threatened with being abandoned there if they did not pay the money. After the detainees insisted that they did not have money, the officials suggested that they use the ‘hawala’ system to obtain money. The detainees agreed and were taken to a farm, apparently owned by a police officer, while they waited for the money to arrive. Those who had money were released immediately and once each group of 20 or so had paid their fee, they were sent with a smuggler in a pick-up truck to Benghazi. B.M.’s money arrived after a couple of days and he too was smuggled to Benghazi for $200By forcing immigrants to use the ‘hawala’ system to appeal to loved-ones back home for money to save their lives, Gaddafi's oil-rich Libya was able to extort money, not only from the intrepid traveler, but also from the whole of impoverished sub-Saharan Africa.
If the immigrants made it to one of the seaside cities, Tripoli, Misrata, Sirte or Benghazi, they had to live like a refugee no matter what their legal status. That meant finding a boat out of there, while avoiding arrest and living under conditions of complete illegality. Since both transport and living cost money, and as one fictitious refugee in North Africa famously said "it was much more than we thought to get here," they probably also needed to find work while they waited and hid from the police. From HRW interviews:
They said they feared being robbed, beaten, and extorted not only by common criminals, but also by the police. Many told Human Rights Watch that they even feared children on the street, who often threw stones at them.The Hamood report gave additional details:
Typical examples of the problems mentioned by respondents from Sudan and the Horn of Africa are: Libyan youth throwing stones at them or hitting, spitting or insulting them, often shouting ‘abeed/’abd (meaning ‘slave’ in Arabic). Both men and women described facing such harassment when walking in the street or taking public transport.In "Pogrom," 12 October 2000, The Economist wrote, "Black-bashing has become a popular afternoon sport for Libya's unemployed youths." The Hamood report noted they also faced racist treatment from the police and other Libya government agencies:
When relating the problems they faced from Libyan society, interviewees regularly described what they saw as a massive disparity between the treatment by police and other state officials of foreigners, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, and that of Libyan nationals. Those interviewed felt that they had no recourse to the police, who would never take action against a Libyan in the case of a dispute between a Libyan and a “black African”.The Hamood report added for clarification:
When probed, respondents using the term ‘foreigners’ explained that they specifically meant ‘blacks’.Being mugged was a common experience for migrants, particularly for sub-Saharan Africans, in Tripoli and other cities; as was having children throw stones at them. Ermi, a 25-year-old Eritrean, spoke for many when he told HRW:
Even children took money from me. Libyans could beat me and I couldn’t defend myself. Even their parents didn’t stop them. The police back them up. Most of them don’t know that we are human beingsF.H., a Somali refugee interviewed in Egypt, said: “Libyans have a separate plate for their black servant and they refuse to eat from it after it has been used from them, they might even throw it away.”
Such racist attitude among the Arab population has led to pogroms in Gaddafi's Libya. The Hamood paper reported on an occurrence in 2000:
The potential for this racism to have dangerous and even fatal consequences was borne out in 2000, when racist attacks against sub-Saharan Africans led to dozens of deaths and scores of injuries. Disturbances in Tripoli and neighbouring al-Zawiyah soon spread to other parts of the country. Many sub-Saharan Africans found themselves homeless after their homes were burned and looted, forcing them to move to camps, “where on occasion members of the security forces failed to protect them from further attack. On at least one occasion, there were allegations of police involvement in the attacks” (Amnesty International, 2001). The attacks were followed by a wave of large-scale repatriations. In 2001 two Libyans, a Ghanaian and four Nigerians were sentenced to death in connection with the attacks.BBC News reported on it briefly on 10 October 2000 saying:
During the past week, thousands of African immigrants living in Libya have been attacked by local residents. Some have had to take refuge in their respective embassies.The report in The Economist two days later was far more detailed:
PLANELOADS of bodies, dead and alive, flew back to West Africa from Tripoli this week, after Libya's worst outbreak of anti-foreigner violence since the expulsion of Italians and Jews in Muammar Qaddafi's coup in 1969. Survivors told of pogroms.
Emeka Nwanko, a 26-year-old Nigerian welder, was one of hundreds of thousands of black victims of the Libyan mob. He fled as gangs trashed his workshop. His friend was blinded, as Libyan gangs wielding machetes roamed the African townships. Bodies were hacked and dumped on motorways. A Chadian diplomat was lynched and Niger's embassy put to the torch. Some Nigerians attacked their own embassy after it refused refuge to nationals without proper papers—the vast majority.
Libyans sheltering Africans were warned that their homes would be next. Some of Libya's indigenous 1m black citizens were mistaken for migrants, and dragged from taxis. In parts of Benghazi, blacks were barred from public transport and hospitals. Pitched battles erupted in Zawiya, a town near Tripoli that is ringed with migrant shantytowns. Diplomats said that at least 150 people were killed, 16 of them Libyans. The all-powerful security forces intervened by shooting into the air.
Over the past fortnight, hundreds of thousands of black migrants have been herded into trucks and buses, driven in convoy towards the border with Niger and Chad, 1,600km (1,000 miles) south of Tripoli, and dumped in the desert.
|Cynthia McKinney at pro-Gaddafi conference in Tripoli, 2009|
The detainees did not understand the reasons for their detention since many had already spent years in Libya, mostly working and establishing themselves on a temporary basis in the fringes of any process allowing legal residence.Maybe the reason for their detention was to squeeze them dry of what little they had accumulated by working and trying to establish themselves. Although, even when they were lucky enough to find work as illegals, that didn't necessarily mean they would get paid for it, as the Hamood report related:
The two most common problems faced were related to thefts, especially by Libyan youth, and not being paid their salary after having completed their work. M.A.A., a Somali refugee in Egypt, said, “Somalis prefer not working in Libya because they know they will be beaten and humiliated.” M., a Darfurian asylum-seeker in Italy, elaborated further with a somewhat typical response, “Many people work and do not receive their salary at the end. If you ask for your money, they beat you and the police do nothing to help.”The return route: failed boat attempts mean death or detention
|The Italian coast guard boat Bovienzo, taking migrants back to |
Libya, 7 May 2009
The smugglers beat us with a stick to get us to board the boat. They crammed 264 of us onto the boat. There were pregnant women, babies, children. The captain of the boat said there were too many, but the smugglers wouldn’t listen. After ten hours, the motor broke. We had no food or water. We drifted for five days. The battery ran out on our Thuraya [satellite phone]. We were waiting to die.They got "lucky" and were found by a coast guard boat from Malta that towed them back to Libya:
When we arrived, there were no doctors, nothing to help, just military police. They started punching us. They said, “You think you want to go to Italy.” They were mocking us. We were thirsty and they were hitting us with sticks and kicking us. For about one hour they beat everyone who was on the boat. Then they put us in a closed truck with only two little windows, not enough air to breathe. There was no food or water on the truck. It was 40 degrees Centigrade outside but it felt like 80 degrees inside the truck. I thought we would all die inside the truck, but somehow we all survived. They first took us to Al Fellah Prison, but it was full, so they took us to Misrata Prison.In a way, Daniel's boat really was lucky, if Gaddafi's Libyan navy had found it, might have been fired upon with live ammunition. From the 2010 HRW report:
On May 4, 2009, Repubblica TV showed footage of men who appeared to be Libyan police brandishing and firing Kalashnikov AKMS assault rifles as they arrested migrants trying to board a boat.This report of refugees being fired upon by "Pastor Paul," a 32-year-old Nigerian, is from a 2009 HRW paper on immigrant interdiction off the coast of Libya:
We were in a wooden boat and Libyans in a [motorized inflatable] Zodiac started shooting at us. They told us to return to shore. They kept shooting until they hit our engine. One person was shot and killed. I don't know the men who did the shooting, but they were civilians, not in uniforms. Then a Libyan navy boat came and got us and started beating us. They collected our money and cell phones. I think the zodiac boat was working with the Libyan navy.This practise of shooting at refugee boats came under further scrutiny after a Libyan patrol boat opened fire on an Italian fishing trawler on 12 September 2010. Although there were no casualties, it caused an international incident, but since Gaddafi had long been working with Berlusconi to suppress the refugee flow, they were both quick to patch things up. The Libyans apologized and Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni excused it, saying "perhaps [the Libyans] mistook the fishing boat for a boat with illegal migrants." Apparently, that was okay with the Italians, so they were willing to excuse it on that basis.
It wasn't just refugees at sea that were met with lethal force:
West Africans describe similar problems when they enter Libya’s southwestern frontier. Migrants said that border police would shoot at them.If the Italian navy found the immigrant boat, it might not be fired upon, but it would be returned to Libyan custody where the beatings will begin again. From the 2010 HRW report:
Italy and Libya patrol waters near their borders to interdict boat migrants and return them summarily to Libya without screening.If they get to the coast and find a boat, that hardly assures they will make it to Europe. The boat may sink and if they are lucky enough to be rescued, they will be brought back to Libya and imprisoned. This is what happened to Abdi Hassan, a 23-year-old Somali. He was imprisoned in Zleitan after the boat he was on sunk and he was rescued. He described his release on 7 July 2008:
Libya in 2010 operated patrol boats provided by Italy with Italian personnel on board to interdict boat migrants on the high seas and in Libyan waters and return them summarily to Libya with no screening to identify refugees, the sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking, or victims of violence against women.
The head of the prison used me to translate an announcement to all the prisoners. He said, “It’s time for business. Everyone has to pay us $1,000 for rescuing them at sea. Those who pay will be sent to the smugglers to help them go to Europe.” Most of us paid the money. We were all released and taken by police car to the Abu Salim neighborhood and put at the door of the smuggler’s house, back where we had started before our boat sankThat is how the cycle is made to repeat itself until Gaddafi's Libya had squeezed the last dollar the poor immigrant had or could raise from the folks back home.
The return route - deportation back to Kurfa
After varying periods of imprisonment and abuse in the coastal region, in which more money was extorted from them, they were likely to be transported back to Kufra for deportation from Libya. The 2010 HRW report told of the aftermath of a immigrant prison protest:
Detainees told Human Rights Watch that Libyan guards severely beat them in the confrontation in Misrata, as well as on the way to al-Biraq; some were taken from Misrata to hospitals, while others arrived at al-Biraq with broken limbs. The detainees said they were given no food or water during the journey and no medical attention in al-Biraq. They also said that Libyan guards told them they would be deported to Eritrea.Then as now, deportation to Eritrea means "imminent torture or death at the hands of the brutal, dictatorial regime that rules Eritrea." And from their 2009 report:
The truck journeys themselves are extremely dangerous and degrading. Migrants told Human Rights about being crammed into closed vehicles with almost no air. They would remain standing for a two-day journey, not allowed out even to urinate and defecate.And again from the 2010 HRW report:
Witnesses informed Human Rights Watch that the Eritreans were jammed into three shipping containers mounted on trucks for the 12-hour, non-stop journey through the desert.Being trucked to Kufra for deportation didn't necessarily mean they would get there. Very likely they would be released short of Kufra to traffickers who will take them back to Tripoli if they can pay, or to make their way out of the desert as best they can, if they can't pay. From the 2009 HRW report:
Libyan authorities in the coastal area put migrants (particularly from the Horn of Africa) in trucks and send them to Kufra purportedly to deport them across the land border with Sudan, but often they are not actually deported, rather simply left in the Libyan desert.Daniel was also transported to Kufra after the Maltese Coast Guard interdicted his boat. He continued his story:
After three months [of detention at Misrata], the Libyans brought a truck and said they would take us back to our home countries. I said I was Sudanese. The truck took us to Kufra. It was overcrowded with 200 people and there was no air. It was very hot inside the truck. It was made of metal. If we had to urinate or defecate we had to do it in the truck where we stood. When the truck stopped, the drivers wouldn’t let us out. We arrived in Kufra. It was a very bad prison. I had a cross on my neck, which they ripped off. We had to line up with our faces against a wall. They hit us with a stick.Tomas, the 24-year-old Eritrean we met above was sent to Kufra after his failed boat attempt and a two month stay in Jawazat Prison in Tripoli. He continues his story:
There was no doctor. At one point I felt very sick; I had a fever. The people started hitting the door to get the attention of the guards because I was very sick. The guards took me outside. The camp manager came and said, “Take him and throw him in the desert.”
A policeman took me, but he took pity on me and took me to the hospital instead. He bought medicine with his own money and they gave me an injection.
After two months, they put us with another group of Eritreans—150 people in all. They put us in a big truck packed with people. There wasn’t room for anyone to sit down...The only air was from some open holes in the roof of the truck; otherwise it was completely closed. The truck drove us from Tripoli to Kufra. We started at 6 am and traveled all day and all the next night. The truck was closed the entire trip. There were cracks in the floor and people urinated on the floor, but my eyes were in pain from the smell.The 2009 HRW report describes how a truck ride to Kufra, obstinately for deportation, is turned into a way of recycling the poor immigrant through Libyan again to squeeze more money out of him or her:
We begged for air. The truck would stop for the drivers to take a break and eat, but they would not open the door for us. They were afraid we would run away. The worst was when we arrived in Kufra. At least the air circulated when we were moving. In Kufra, we stopped for two hours in 45 degree [centigrade] weather and we could hardly breathe. The truck was made of metal. They kept us in there for two hours as punishment because we were shouting during the journey. God is great; we all survived.
When they let us out of the truck, we were in Kufra Prison. We spent one week there. They fed us food only once a day; rice only. Ramadan was over. I had already experienced two months of hunger in prison. We were now 800 prisoners crowded in different rooms. We slept on pieces of cardboard. There were no mattresses. It was dirty. The guards had no communication with us. They just opened and closed the doors.
Kufra is the border place for deportation. They just let you go from there because there is no place to go. There are always three nationalities there: Sudanese, Eritreans, and Ethiopians. They cast you back to your country at Kufra. They don't actually take you to the border; they just let you go.
But the smugglers have an agreement with the prison commander. When they let us go, we are ready for market. The drivers wait for us outside the Kufra prison and make deals to take us to Tripoli. The drivers say that they have paid money to get us out of prison. They then take us out of the city to a place in the open bush.
The drivers told us we had to pay them money since they had paid to get us released from prison. We had either to pay the 40 dinar bribe to get us out of prison or $400 to get to Tripoli. The only way to do that is to call your family to have them send money. My family sent money and I went back to Tripoli.
Libya trucks migrants from the coastal areas to its land borders to deport them. Migrants from the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Eritrea, are sent by truck to Kufra in Libya’s remote southeastern corner to be deported into Sudan. In some cases, however, they are not actually deported. Instead, according to testimony from migrants, they are left in the desert within Libyan territory. In practice, this means that such migrants have no choice but to put their lives in the hands, once again, of the smugglers who brought them from Kufra to Benghazi or Tripoli in the first place, usually abusing them along the way.The route - pay or die in the desert
|Bodies found in the desert|
I walked to Libya after being dropped in the desert. I saw the bodies of Eritreans and their ID cards there in the desert—two ladies and a boy who looked Eritrean. It took 24 days to get through the desert.But she lived to tell her story. So did Emmanuel, a 34-year-old Togolese man:
They killed people, took our money and left 32 of us in the desert without food or water. Six more died of thirst. A car picked us up and took us to Al-Qatrun. After a week there, we went in another car to Sabha. There were checkpoints on the road. They check you for money. If you don’t have money they beat you and threaten to send you back in the desert to die. People lost their souls, left without food or water.The bounce - from Kurfa to back to the coast
If they can pay, the cycle repeated until they reached Europe or died trying. Ghedi, a 29-year-old Somali, described how he had to bargain for his release from Kufra detention center in April 2008:
The first time I paid $300 and was not released. Then I paid another $500 and was released. It was at night. The smugglers and the police—or the army—were the same. They were all the same.As HRW stated in its 2009 report:
Although the authorities transport migrants to Kufra for the supposed purpose of expelling them overland to Egypt or Sudan, in fact the Kufra authorities sometimes do not actually take them to the border but rather leave them in the desert outside Kufra or make deals with smugglers who pick them up to start the process again.For those few lucky enough to finally reach the "promised land" of Italy, this 28 September 2009 Reuters article by Silva Aloisi, titled '"Modern slave" migrants toil in Italy's tomato fields,' gives us an idea of what they could expect:
Every year thousands of immigrants, many from Africa, flock to the fields and orchards of southern Italy to scrape a living as seasonal workers picking grapes, olives, tomatoes and oranges.
Broadly tolerated by authorities because of their role in the economy, they endure long hours of backbreaking work for as little as 15-20 euros ($22-$29) a day and live in squalid makeshift camps without running water or electricity.
“It’s a feudal system like in the Middle Ages. These modern slaves are handy for the economy: you can exploit them and then get rid of them when you don’t need them anymore,” said Father Arcangelo Maira, a local priest trying to help the immigrants.
“They left their country and came here hoping to find an El Dorado, but they end up living in conditions that are often worse than what they had at home,” said Benelli.
|African immigrants sit in a shack in a makeshift camp in the countryside near the village of Rignano Garganico, southern Italy, September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile|
|Arab Ladies In the Harem by Filippo Baratti|
The emergence of the Arab supremacy was a reaction to the Western powers, Western colonialism, and imperialism in the early 20th century.Libyan racism under Gaddafi
Tomas, the 24-year-old Eritrean, remembers the racism as well as the abuse, saying:
They called me “nigger” as they beat me.It is a fitting tribute to the fatherhood of white supremacy that these Arab speakers used an English word to insult these Africans. "Nigger" is a racial slur for Africans that developed in the United States in the 1700's along with slavery. The Hamood report noted the effects of this racism on African migrants:
For sub-Saharan Africans, there are additional difficulties faced from society at large, notably racism. Testimonies of some of the Egyptian respondents, as well as those of sub-Saharan Africans, describe a situation in which sub-Saharan Africans face greater difficulties both from state officials, such as police officers and prison guards, and from ordinary members of society by virtue of the colour of their skin.For Hama Tuma, the responsibility for these racist policies came straight from the top:
For all his claims to the contrary, Gaddafi has no respect for Africa or Africans. This is not just manifested by how very inhumanely he treats African workers and asylum seekers, nor by his self declaration as the King of All African tribes, but mainly by his deeply ingrained chauvinism and pretension to be an African Messiah. No wonder he refers to Africans as starved and ignorant and violates the rights of Black Africans in Libya.
|Ethnic map of Libya|
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) was concerned about the plight of ethnic minorities. Berber (Amazigh) and Toubou peoples had been suffering human rights violations. Some 10 percent of the Libyan population was estimated to be of Amazigh origin. Tens of thousands of Tuareg people migrated from Niger and Mali to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in search for jobs after the disastrous drought in the Sahel countries in the 70s. But the Libyan Government insisted on the Arab identity of the country and described claims of Amazigh identity as a colonial invention. Despite the fact that the Amazigh were the indigenous population of North Africa, on March 1, 2007, the Libyan leadership has publicly stated that no Berbers were living in North Africa. These remarks have caused an outcry among the Amazigh community in North Africa. STP reported that the President of the “World Amazigh Congress” wrote an Open Letter and protested against the denial of the existence of 30 million Amazigh in North Africa. Libyan Amazigh were facing ostracism, exclusion and broad discrimination, stated the letter.Then they turned their attention to the Tabu:
STP recalled that massive discrimination of the Toubou minority had been reported from the south eastern part of the country. Some 4,000 Toubou people are living in the town of Kufra, an oasis city of 44,000 inhabitants some 2,000 kilometres from Tripoli. In the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, they were treated as foreigners by the authorities. In December 2007, the Libyan Government withdrew citizenship from members of the Toubou group, stating that they were not Libyans but Chadians. Furthermore the local authorities issued decrees barring Toubou from access to education and health care services. The armed movement “Front for the Salvation of the Toubou Libyans” has opposed these measures and up to 33 people died in Kufra, during five days of fighting between the official security forces and the Toubou in November 2008In one of the most grotesque examples of racial violence to be found anywhere, the Gaddafi regime suppressed a major Tabu uprising in Kufra by deploying helicopter gunships and tanks. The Carleton report gives some background:
Historically, the town of Kufra was a key trading post between central and northern Africa; however, Libya's southern border region is now a main smuggling route for arms and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. The Toubou, who are deeply engaged in the smuggling economy, are allegedly in competition with the Arab Zwai to control these routes. Neither group is better off economically than the other, save for the discriminatory state policies against non-Arab minorities under the Qaddafi regime, including the removal of their rights to citizenship, ration cards, healthcare and education in 2007.The Carnegie report described the situation this way:
The most intractable eastern conflict is the ongoing violence in the Saharan town of Kufra, where clashes have erupted between the Tabu, a long-marginalized non-Arab African minority, and the Zway, an Arab tribe favored by Qaddafi.The UNHCR gives us these examples of Israeli-styled discrimination:
November 2009 dozens of families lost their homes due to forced destruction by bulldozers supervised by state security forces. Several dozens of Toubou were arrested because of their opposition against the forced evictions.And the Gaddafi regime carried out these extreme policies:
Libyan authorities refused to renew or extend passports to members of this minority. Several times parents were prevented from registering births of their children and denied birth certificates.The Carnegie report tells us what was happening before Gaddafi brought in the gunships:
Throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the Tabu in Kufra saw their livelihood decline precipitously, with the majority of Tabu confined to ghetto-like conditions in the districts of Swaydiya and Qaderfi. In 2007, Qaddafi withdrew Libyan nationality from many Tabu in Kufra, effectively depriving them of health care, housing, jobs, and education. In response, local Tabu formed the Front for the Salvation of Libyan Tabus; widespread rioting and protests ensued. In 2008, the regime suppressed a major Tabu uprising in Kufra, deploying helicopter gunships and tanks.It then adds this hopeful note:
During the 2011 revolt, however, the Zway and the Tabu temporarily shelved their differences and fought together against Qaddafi.White Supremacy and the Green Book
The Green Book is a 19,054 word "book" which Muammar Gaddafi published six years after his military coup d'etat in 1969. It sets out the philosophy and political structures of his "revolution," it was "intended to be read for all people," and it was reported that Libyan school children spent at least 2 hours a week studying it. When asked to explain the Green Book, Professor Dirk Vandewalle of Dartmouth College said:
I must admit it's very difficult to understand in part because it really is not a coherent thought if you compare it, for example, to "The Little Red Book" of Mao and so on where you get at least a consistent argument. "The Green Book" contains really a set of aphorisms more than a completely thought-out integrated philosophical statement.And yet, it was supposed to serve as the supreme law of the land. It has very little to say directly about black people, but what it does say panders to the racist mythology behind the so-called threat of "white genocide." It is also right in line with Gaddafi's fear mongering anti-migrant sales pitch to the EU. The Green Book says:
Those 215 words are the sum total of what the Green Book has to say about black Africans in this North African country, although it does peddle its national chauvinism throughout the text with little tibbits like:
BLACK PEOPLE WILL PREVAIL IN THE WORLD
The latest age of slavery has been the enslavement of Blacks by White people. The memory of this age will persist in the thinking of Black people until they have vindicated themselves.
This tragic and historic event, the resulting bitter feeling, and the yearning or the vindication of a whole race, constitute a psychological motivation of Black people to vengeance and triumph that cannot be disregarded. In addition, the inevitable cycle of social history, which includes the Yellow people's domination of the world when it marched from Asia, and the White people's carrying out a wide-ranging colonialist movement covering all the continents of the world, is now giving way to the re-emergence of Black people.
Black people are now in a very backward social situation, but such backwardness works to bring about their numerical superiority because their low standard of living has shielded them from methods of birth control and family planning. Also, their old social traditions place no limit on marriages, leading to their accelerated growth. The population of other races has decreased because of birth control, restrictions on marriage, and constant occupation in work, unlike the Blacks, who tend to be less obsessive about work in a climate which is continuously hot.
People are only harmonious with their own arts and heritage. They are not harmonious with the arts of others because of heredity.It's no wonder that today Muammar Gaddafi words are featured on extremist sites like InfoWars, Daily Stormer, and Stop White Genocide.
Gaddafi's Libya exported white supremacy to Africa
Gaddafi's involvement in Darfur and with the founding of the Janjaweed is a case in point.
noted, "The irony is that the same so called Arab Sudanese and Mauritanians are themselves considered as abeed or slaves in Saudi Arabia." Jacob Akol wrote about this in "Why peace is elusive: The government has suspended the peace talks with the rebels after losing the strategic town of Torit," Around Africa: Sudan, 2002:
the northern Sudanese see themselves as Arabs and deny the strongly African element in their skin colour and physical features. They associate these features with the Negroid race and see it as the mother race of slaves, inferior and demeaned.These differences in skin color, mixed with a little religion and a lot of Arab supremacy, led to one of the worst holocausts of the 21st century, the Darfur genocide. By the end of 2006, the Sudanese Arab janjaweed militias had shot, hacked, or starved to death up to 300,000 people in their attempt to wipeout the non-Arab population. Makau Mutua, wrote about the genocide for the Christian Science Monitor in a piece titled "Racism at root of Sudan's Darfur crisis," 14 July 2004:
"Their identification with Arabism." Dr Deng says, "is the result of a process in which races and religions were ranked, with Arabs and Muslims respected as free, superior and a race of slave masters, while Negroes and heathens were viewed as legitimate target of slavery, if they were not in fact already slaves."
Colour of skin is also an important factor in Sudan: "The darker the colour of skin, the less authentic the claim to Arab ancestry and the greater the likelihood of being looked down on as of slave origin."
Darfur is not an accidental apocalypse of mass slaughters, enslavement, pillage, and ethnic cleansing. The Darfur pogrom is part of a historic continuum in which successive Arab governments have sought to entirely destroy black Africans in this biracial nation.Economic greed and global warming also played a role in the crisis. The piece continues:
The raison d'être of the atrocities committed by government-supported Arab militias is the racist, fundamentalist, and undemocratic Sudanese state. What is required for peace in Sudan is either regime change, in which a democratic, inclusive state is born, or a partition, in which the black African south and west become an independent sovereign state free of Khartoum and the Arab north.
Race - not religion - is the fundamental fault line in Sudan, though religion has certainly added fuel to the fire in the south.
Khartoum's genocidal policy in Darfur and the south is also a grab for resources. The Arab north is arid and barren, but the south is arable with vast oil deposits Khartoum covets and badly needs. In the west, in Darfur, Arabs seeking to escape the spreading desert kill and displace Africans for more productive land.
It's telling that the AU has not denounced Sudan for the Darfur atrocities. And, at its annual summit in Addis Ababa last week, the AU declared that the Darfur killings did not amount to genocide.
|Muammar Gaddafi with Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, 21 Dec 2010|
However, several reports about the nature of the AU meeting, as well as the behavior of the African members of the ICC, all show that the continent hasn’t turned its back on the ICC or Bashir’s arrest warrant. The “consensus” does not exist. The decision was made through the use of manipulative tactics and bullying from the current chairman of the African Union, Muammar Gaddafi, and without a doubt, from Bashir himself.In "Beyond ‘Janjaweed’: Understanding the Militias of Darfur" Julie Flint writes of the roots of the genocide:
There were reports that Gaddafi had threatened foreign ministers, censored e-mails, and had faxes blocked so that no one could effectively challenge the resolution. The vice president of Botswana, Mompati Merafhe, stated that “Gaddafi did not permit much debate on the matter…we did not get an opportunity to put our opinion across.” Others were prohibited from making any comment on the declaration at all.
In North Darfur, clashes between pastoralists and farmers over water and grazing land, especially in the wake of the great drought and famine of 1984–85, escalated into war in the central Jebel Marra region in 1988–89 as Arab fighters trained in Libyan camps returned to Darfur following the overthrow of the regime of President Jaafar Nimeiri and small arms flooded the region.Libyan oil money misappropriated by Gaddafi probably financed those small arms. She seems to confirm this when she adds:
In the 1980s, many of Darfur’s Arabs had been armed, including with an agenda of Arab domination, as the Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi sought to establish an ‘Arab belt’ across Africa.The origins of the Janjaweed go back to 1972 when Gaddafi created the Islamic Legion as a tool to unify and Arabize the region. Alex de Waal wrote in the London Review of Books, 5 August 2004:
Gaddafi’s formula for war was expansive: he collected discontented Sahelian Arabs and Tuaregs, armed them, and formed them into an Islamic Legion that served as the spearhead of his offensives.In Darfur, a western province of Sudan, Gaddafi supported the creation of the Arab Gathering (Tajammu al-Arabi), which according to Gérard Prunier was "a militantly racist and pan-Arabist organization which stressed the 'Arab' character of the province."
There was of co-mingling between these groups, and between them they kept up near continuous cross border raids that had already costed more than 9,000 lives in Darfur between 1985 and 1988 when the Janjaweed first rose from this rabble. "Peace in the Balance: The Crisis in Sudan," edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Karin Alexander, 2006, says:
Today Gaddafi's pan-Arabic ideals seem passé but the legacy of Libyan Arab supremacy lives on in Darfur. The Janjaweed are amongst those who are said to have received training in Libya.In "Genocide in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in the Sudan," Andrew S. Natsios puts the blame for the genocide squarely on Gaddafi's foreign policy:
In 1987, Libya used the northwest Darfur corner as a backdoor to attack Chad. It had equipped and sent out the so-called Arab legion, an Arab supremacist militia, to pursue Arab expansion in the mineral-rich sub-Saharan regions it bordered and to drive out the African tribes. Libya was not orchestrating a simple border raid on a poor country; it was pursuing a new strategy of pan-Arabism, couched in an emotionally charged ideology.Now that Donald Trump is president of the United States, the experiences of Libya under the rule of "Brother Leader" Muammar Gaddafi should be read as a cautionary tale of what impact a corrupt, lying, full-of-himself, racist, dictatorial ruler can have on a country given enough time in power.
The sharp distinctions between Arabs and Africans in the racially mixed Darfur region had not been drawn until the ideology of pan-Arabism that came out of the Libya made itself felt.
While the UN authorized, NATO implemented, no-fly zone stopped Gaddafi from doing to Libya, what Bashar al-Assad has been allowed to do to Syria, the heavy lifting of defeating Gaddafi's armed repression, the fighting on the ground, was done by people's militias organized by the Libyans themselves. They succeeded in doing what no other "Arab Spring" revolt was able to do; they succeeded in completely smashing the dictatorial state machinery including it instruments of violent repression!
Of course, overthrowing the government is just the first half of the revolutionary process. The process Libya is going through now, typically a ten year process, is the one in which the people, hopefully, replace it with something better. The future is not predestined however, 10 years after their revolution, the French got Napoleon, and 10 years after our revolution we were still hashing out the US constitution.
Post-Gaddafi Libya also faces some special problems; Gaddafi's unique style of "governance" left Libya with almost nothing like normal civil and government institutions. If you've gotten to this point in this essay, you know that is something of an understatement. Civil society has to be created virtually from scratch.
Generations of Libyans have no experience living outside of a police state and no tradition of carrying out ordinary civil functions like voting, joining civil discourse, or running for office. Generations grew up in an environment in which racism wasn't just tolerated; it was encouraged from the highest levels of law and government.They were also largely abandoned by the white Left, which discredited communism with their counterfeit versions, failed to criticize Gaddafi when he was in power, didn't notice the revolt until NATO changed sides, and then threw their support behind the fascists because NATO came around to needing to be rid of Gaddafi fast.
Libya should be rightly criticized for practices of racism, slavery and immigrant abuse that continue there today, but the Left should not join the imperialists in propagating the counter-revolutionary mythology that these are features new to Libya, or have gotten worse since Gaddafi was overthrown. Rather it must be recognized that his overthrow was but the first necessary step to correcting these ills.
It is true that post-Gaddafi Libya has serious problems, including with racism and their handling of immigrants and refugees, but this must be placed in the context of what the country has been through under the 42 years of Gaddafi rule. Far from being the "good old days," -it is the legacy Libya is still trying to overcome, and those efforts should be supported, not denigrated, by progressive people around the world.
My indepth pieces on the Libyan Revolution:
Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!