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The Libyan Slave Trade Has Shocked the World. Here’s What You Should Know



A video of men appearing to be sold at auction in Libya for $400 has shocked the world and focused international attention on the exploitation of migrants and refugees the north African country.

The footage and subsequent investigation conducted by CNN last month has rallied European and African leaders to take action to stop the abuses. On Wednesday, the leaders of Libya, France, Germany, Chad and Niger and four other countries agreed on a plan to evacuate thousands of migrants stuck in Libyan detention camps.

The grainy undercover video appears to show smugglers selling off a dozen men outside of the capital city Tripoli.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” said an auctioneer, according to CNN. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

The report has drawn attention to an issue that aid and migrant groups say has gone on for years.

Why is there a slave trade in Libya?

Libya is the main transit point for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. In each of the last three years, 150,000 people have made the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. For four years in a row, 3,000 refugees have died while attempting the journey, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the U.N.’s migration agency.

The Libyan Coast Guard — supported with funds and resources from the E.U. and more specifically, Italy — has cracked down on boats smuggling refugees and migrants to Europe. With estimates of 400,000 to almost one million people now bottled up Libya, detention centers are overrun and there are mounting reports of robbery, rape, and murder among migrants, according to a September report by the U.N. human rights agency. Conditions in the centers have been described as “horrific,” and among other abuses, migrants are vulnerable to being sold off as laborers in slave auctions.
“It’s a total extortion machine,” Lenard Doyle, Director of Media and Communications for the IOM in Geneva tells TIME. “Fueled by the absolute rush of migrants through Libya thinking they can get out of poverty, following a dream that doesn’t exist.”

The IOM said in April that it had documented reports of “slave markets” along the migrant routes in North Africa “tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.”

“There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value,” Doyle said in the April statement.

How is Libya handling the crisis?

According to CNN, the U.N.-backed Libyan government has launched a formal investigation into the allegations. But Libya is largely considered a failed state. Since Muammar Gaddafi, who ran the country for four decades, was ousted in 2011, the country has descended into civil war.

A transitional government failed to implement rule of law in the country, which has splintered into several factions of militias, tribes, and gangs. In lawless Libya, many see the slave trade and smuggling as a lucrative industry. Tackling the country’s humanitarian crisis will require international assistance.

On Wednesday, Libya reached a deal with E.U. and African leaders to allow the emergency repatriation of refugees and migrants facing abuse in its detention centers. The government also agreed to open a transit center for vulnerable refugees after months of negotiations, according to Reuters. The center is intended to safely house people before they are resettled or sent to a third country.

How is the international community responding?

Following the publication of the video, there was outcry from all corners of the globe, with some nations recalling their ambassadors from Libya. Protesters rallied outside Libyan embassies across Africa and in Europe.

On Wednesday, African and European leaders met at a summit in the Ivory Coast and agreed on an urgent evacuation plan that would see about 15,000 people flown out of Libya. Most of the migrants will be sent back to their home countries. Speaking at the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron, called the abuse “a crime against humanity” and vowed the summit members would “launch concrete military and policing action on the ground to dismantle those networks,” according to the Guardian. The deal also included initiatives to target traffickers, including setting up a task force to dismantle trafficking networks, the BBC reports.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed shock at how his compatriots were being treated “like goats.” On Wednesday, 242 Nigerian migrants were flown out of Libya back to Nigeria.

The day before, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting and said it would be “stepping up its work” to stop the abuses. However, the U.N refugee agency said it faces “dramatic” funding gaps, especially for its operations in sub-Saharan Africa. “Slavery and other such egregious abuses of human rights have no place in the 21st century,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said.

Since 2015, the IOM has repatriated 13,000 people from Libya under a voluntary program. But Doyle, the IOM spokesperson, says more needs to be done to stop migration at its core, particularly from tech companies who own online platforms where traffickers can falsely lure people into paying smugglers.

“They’re being completely misled into thinking that’s a happy future for them and being misled thorough social media,” he tells TIME.

Earlier this week, the foreign ministry of Rwanda said it would extend asylum to 30,000 mainly sub-Saharan Africans stuck in Libya. “Given our own history … we cannot remain silent when human beings are being mistreated and auctioned off like cattle,” the foreign ministry said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley condemned the abuses, saying: “To see the pictures of these men being treated like cattle, and to hear the auctioneer describe them as, quote, ‘big strong boys for farm work,’ should shock the conscience of us all.”

“There are few greater violations of human rights and human dignity than this.”


DP World says Djibouti incident could hurt Africa investment



DUBAI (Reuters) – Port operator DP World said on Thursday that Djibouti’s decision to seize control of a terminal project could hurt African efforts to attract investment.

The Dubai state-owned port operator is facing twin political challenges in Africa.

Djibouti abruptly ended its contract to run the Doraleh Container Terminal last month and Somalia’s parliament voted this week to ban the company.

DP World has called the Djibouti move illegal and said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.

“Africa needs infrastructure investments and if countries can change their law [to take assets then this] is going to basically make it more difficult to attract investment,” Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told a news conference in Dubai.
DP World reported 14.9 percent rise in 2017 profit to $1.18 billion profit and said that it would invest $1.4 billion across its global portfolio including in Berbera in Somaliland. [L8N1QX0F2]

It is developing a port in Berbera in partnership with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia. It is also developing a greenfield free trade zone in the breakaway region.

Bin Sulayem said he was not concerned by the vote in Somalia’s parliament to ban DP World from the country, which the parliament said nullified their Somaliland contract.

It is unclear how Somalia’s federal government could enforce the ban given Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for about 42 percent of the cargo DP World handled in 2017.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Jason Neely

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African arms imports down



DEFENCE WEB — Over the last decade, African arms imports dropped by 22 per cent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), but Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria continued to order large quantities of weapons and equipment.

In its Trends in International Arms Transfers 2017 fact sheet released this week, SIPRI said that African arms sales dropped 22% between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Much of the hardware that was supplied went to Algeria (52% of African arms imports), Morocco (12%) and Nigeria (5.1%).

“Major arms play an important role in the military operations by sub-Saharan African states, although, due to lack of resources, procurement typically involves small numbers of mainly relatively low-end weapons,” SIPRI said.

States in sub-Saharan Africa received 32% of total African imports in 2013–17. The top five arms importers in sub-Saharan Africa were Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Together, they accounted for 56% of arms imports to the subregion. Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 % between 2008–12 and 2013–17, SIPRI noted.

Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32% compared with 2008–12, but despite the decrease, Russia accounted for 39% of total imports to the region. Algeria received 78% of Russia’s arms transfers to Africa in 2013–17.

China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4% to 17%. “A total of 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China in 2013–17, and China accounted for 27% of sub-Saharan African arms imports in that period (compared with 16% in 2008–12). In North Africa, China became an important supplier to Algeria in 2013–17, with deliveries including three frigates and artillery,” SIPRI reported.

The United States accounted for 11% of arms exports to Africa in 2013–17 – the transfers were mainly small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid. In 2013–17 Kenya—which is fighting al-Shabab on its own territory and in Somalia— acquired 13 transport helicopters, 2 second-hand combat helicopters, 65 light armoured vehicles and a small number of self-propelled howitzers.

SIPRI lists Egypt’s acquisitions as falling under the Middle East – if these are included in the continent’s statistics they push up Africa’s imports significantly as arms imports by Egypt grew by 215% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.

SIPRI noted that the US has been Egypt’s main arms supplier since the late 1970s, and accounted for 45% of Egypt’s arms imports in 2008–12. “However, between 2013 and 2015 the US halted deliveries of certain arms, in particular combat aircraft, to Egypt. In 2014 Egypt signed major arms deals with France, and deliveries started in 2015. As a result, France accounted for 37 % of Egypt’s arms imports in 2013–17 and overtook the USA to become the main arms supplier to Egypt for that period. This was despite the fact that the USA ended its restrictions in 2015 and increased its overall arms supplies to Egypt by 84% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.”

Globally, SIPRI in its latest report said that the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013–17 was 10% higher than in 2008–12, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 2000s.

The five largest exporters in 2013–17 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The United States in 2013-17 had a 34% share of the global market, followed by Russia (22%), France (6.7%), Germany (5.8%) and China (5.7%).

The USA supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17. Exports to states in the Middle East accounted for 49 per cent of total US arms exports in that period. “Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

The five largest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17 and consequently arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32% of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

SIPRI said the flow of arms to the Middle East and Asia and Oceania increased between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to the Americas, Africa and Europe.

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Tillerson Reaffirms US Commitment to Africa



ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has re-affirmed the U.S. commitment to Africa, two months after President Donald Trump’s reported derogatory comments about the continent.

“I think the United States commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of the importance we place on the relationship,” said Tillerson at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The president himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson, reaffirming the importance of this relationship.”

Trump in January reportedly used an expletive to describe Haiti and some African countries. At the time, officials from the AU and several African nations said they were outraged by the reported comments.

On Thursday, Tillerson met with AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, who spoke of renewed ties.

“This incident is of the past,” Mahamat said during a joint news conference with the secretary in the Ethiopian capital. “With the visit of Secretary of State Tillerson, the evidence of the relations between Africa and the United States is personified through his visit.”

Tillerson said promoting peace and security, development and trade, and good governance, are three pillars of Washington’s approach to Africa.

His visit to Addis Ababa came after Ethiopia officials decided to impose a state of emergency. But protests in the restive Oromia region have continued.

The top U.S. diplomat said after Thursday’s meeting with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu the answer to political turmoil in Ethiopia is greater freedom. He said he hoped to see “the country move on past the state of emergency as quickly as possible.”

Tillerson added, “We firmly believe that democratic reform, economic growth, and lasting stability are best addressed through an inclusive political process, rather than through the imposition of restrictions.”

He noted the U.S. appreciated the statements on South Sudan made at the AU summit in January, where the African body raised the possibility of sanctions for the violation of cease-fires in the conflict-stricken nation.

Continental free trade

Meanwhile, the AU plans to sign a Continental Free Trade Agreement later this month aimed at economically integrating the continent, which has a population of 1.2 billion people and a combined estimated GDP of $3.5 trillion.

Tillerson said Washington supports “the African Union’s economic regional integration efforts to lower intra-trade barriers on the continent, boost more intra-regional trade, which we know has been a central goal of the negotiations around the constant Continental Free Trade Agreement, which we are quite supportive of.”

Fighting corruption

Leaders of the African Union, which represents 55 countries, also outlined an official theme of anti-corruption for the year of 2018 during its annual summit in January.

“We think these are all positive developments. So the continent is moving in one direction and we’re just hoping the current administration is taking noteand is also engaging this continent in a direction in which it’s trying to move,” said Brahima Coulibaly, Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative senior fellow.

Proposed cuts in aid

But the Trump administration is under criticism for a proposed 2018 budget cut on efforts to combat HIV and AIDS.

While Tillerson has announced nearly $533 million in new humanitarian assistance for food insecurity in some African nations, the Trump administration has not proposed a signature initiative to aid Africans.

“It is unusual for a secretary of state to make a trip like this and to have no deliverables, to have no initiative that they’re ready to announce,” said Witney Schneidman, the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative nonresident fellow.

After more than a year since entering the White House, Trump still has not nominated a chief U.S. diplomat for Africa, and embassies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Africa and in five other African countries remain without ambassadors.

China in Africa

Speaking Tuesday before leaving for Africa, Tillerson said the United States is “eager” to lower barriers to trade and investment on the continent, whose largest trading partner by far is China.

He pointed up that the U.S. approach of “incentivizing good governance” contrasts sharply with China’s, “which encourages dependency, using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty.”

Tillerson’s one-week, five-nation trip is focusing on counterterrorism, promoting peace, good governance and trade and investment. He is scheduled to meet with top officials in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria — all of them U.S. allies in the war against terrorism and jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab and Islamic State.

Without partnerships to build infrastructure and achieve more economic development, Tillerson warned there will be “new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation.”

The secretary of state also said U.S. and African leaders “must work to find long-term diplomatic solutions” to regional conflicts “that cause so much human suffering.”

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