Slavery in Libya

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Slavery in Libya [1] [2] [3] has a long history and a lasting impact on the Libyan culture. It is closely connected with the wider context of slavery in North African and trans-Saharan slave trade.



Enslavement of Europeans

It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by pirates and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th century. Reports of Barbary raids and kidnappings of those in Italy, France, Iberia, England, Ireland, Scotland and as far north as Iceland exist from this period. [4] Famous accounts of Barbary slave raids include a mention in the Diary of Samuel Pepys and a raid on the coastal village of Baltimore, Ireland, during which pirates left with the entire populace of the settlement. Such raids in the Mediterranean were so frequent and devastating that the coastline between Venice and Malaga [5] suffered widespread depopulation, and settlement there was discouraged. It was said that this was largely because "there was no one left to capture any longer". [6]

Enslavement of West & Central Africans

The Tuareg and others who are indigenous to Libya facilitated, taxed and partly organized the trade from the south along the trans-Saharan trade routes. In the 1830s – a period when slave trade flourished – Ghadames was handling 2,500 slaves a year. [7] Even though the slave trade was officially abolished in Tripoli in 1853, in practice it continued until the 1890s. [8]

The British Consul in Benghazi wrote in 1875 that the slave trade had reached an enormous scale and that the slaves who were sold in Alexandria and Constantinople had quadrupled in price. This trade, he wrote, was encouraged by the local government. [8]

Adolf Vischer writes in an article published in 1911 that: " has been said that slave traffic is still going on on the Benghazi-Wadai route, but it is difficult to test the truth of such an assertion as, in any case, the traffic is carried on secretly". [9] At Kufra, the Egyptian traveller Ahmed Hassanein Bey found out in 1916 that he could buy a girl slave for five pounds sterling while in 1923 he found that the price had risen to 30 to 40 pounds sterling. [10]

Another traveler, the Danish convert to Islam Knud Holmboe, crossed the Italian Libyan desert in 1930, and was told that slavery is still practiced in Kufra and that he could buy a slave girl for 30 pounds sterling at the Thursday slave market. [10] According to James Richardson's testimony, when he visited Ghadames, most slaves were from Bornu. [11]

Libya during Gadaffi

Human Rights Watch documented cases of migrants frequently being arbitrarily detained and sold in Libyan detention centers. [12] Amnesty International also noted that migrants traveling through Libya were subject to detention in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, and torture. [13] The US state department also noted in their 2010 report on human trafficking: "As in previous years, there were isolated reports that women from sub-Saharan Africa were forced into prostitution in Libya. There were also reports that migrants from Georgia were subjected to forced labor in Libya," and argued that the Libyan government did not show significant evidence of effort to prosecute traffickers or protect trafficking victims. [14]

After his death, reports emerged on how Gaddafi had kidnapped and kept a large number of women as sex slaves, subjecting them to rape and abuse. [15] [16]

Slavery in the post-Gaddafi era

Since Muammar Gaddafi's regime was overthrown during the First Libyan Civil War in 2011, Libya has been plagued by disorder, leaving migrants with little cash and no papers vulnerable. Libya is a major exit point for African migrants heading to Europe. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) published a report in April 2017 showing that many of the migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa heading to Europe are sold as slaves after being detained by people smugglers or militia groups. African countries south of Libya were targeted for slave trading and transferred to Libyan slave markets instead. According to the victims, the price is higher for migrants with skills like painting and tiling. [17] [18] Slaves are often ransomed to their families and until ransom can be paid are tortured, forced to work, sometimes to death and eventually executed or left to starve if they can't pay for too long. Women are often raped and used as sex slaves and sold to brothels and private Libyan clients. [17] [18] [19] [20] Many child migrants also suffer from abuse and child rape in Libya. [21] [22]

After receiving unverified CNN video of a November 2017 slave auction in Libya, a human trafficker told Al-Jazeera (a Qatari TV station with interests in Libya) that hundreds of migrants are bought and sold across the country every week. [23] Migrants who have gone through Libyan detention centres have shown signs of many human rights abuses such as severe abuse, including electric shocks, burns, lashes and even skinning, stated the director of health services on the Italian island of Lampedusa to Euronews. [24]

A Libyan group known as the Asma Boys have antagonized migrants from other parts of Africa from at least as early as 2000, destroying their property. [25] Nigerian migrants in January 2018 gave accounts of abuses in detention centres, including being leased or sold as slaves. [26] Videos of Sudanese migrants being burnt and whipped for ransom, were released later on by their families on social media. [27] In June 2018, the United Nations applied sanctions against four Libyans (including a Coast Guard commander) and two Eritreans for their criminal leadership of slave trade networks. [28]


The governments of Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo responded to the reports by recalling their ambassadors from Libya. [29] The CNN report incited outrage. Hundreds of protesters, mostly young black people, protested in front of the Libyan embassy in central Paris, with French police firing tear gas to disperse them. Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, called the auctions "despicable". [30] Protests also took place outside Libyan embassies in Bamako, Conakry [31] and Yaounde. [32] UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that he was horrified by the auction footage and these crimes should be investigated as possible crimes against humanity. [33] Hundreds protested outside the Libyan Embassy on 9 December in London. [34]

President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou summoned the Libyan ambassador and demanded the International Court of Justice to investigate Libya for slave trade. Foreign minister of Burkina Faso Alpha Barry also stated he had summoned the Libyan ambassador for consultations. [35] France on 22 November sought an emergency meeting of UN Security Council, while President Emmanuel Macron called the footage "scandalous" and "unacceptable." He called the auctions a crime against humanity. [36] President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari stated that Nigerians were being treated like goats and stated stranded Nigerian migrants in Libya will be brought back. [37]

The African Union, European Union and United Nations agreed on 30 November to set up a task force in Libya against migrant abuse. The task force's aim is to coordinate its work with the GNA to dismantle trafficking and criminal networks. It also aims to help countries of origin and transit hubs to tackle migration with development and stability. [38] African and European leaders agreed on the same day to evacuate the migrants trapped in camps. [39] Former Nigerian aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode published images on Twitter claiming that slaves were having their organs harvested and some of their bodies are burnt. He also quoted a report claiming that 75% of the slaves are from southern Nigeria. It was unclear however whether his images were authentic. [40]

A Ghanaian lawyer, Bobby Banson, also claimed that the organs of the migrants were being harvested and they were not being sold for work. He requested African Union to set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the slave trade. [41]

In 2017, the progressive media watchdog organization FAIR accused the mainstream media in Western nations of whitewashing the role NATO and the United States played in the resurgence of open slave markets in Libya, following the NATO-led ousting of Muammar Qadhafi in 2011. [42]

NCHRL accusations of exaggerated reporting

In November 2017, the National Commission for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) claimed that the media reports of slavery in Libya were exaggerated, and that while slavery existed in Libya, it was also rare as well. [43] Slave auctions, the commission said, are "such rare sights" and "are very discrete and clandestine". [43] The commission also called for the Libyan government to stamp out the illegal practice of slavery as well. [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

History of Libya Historical development of Libya

Libya's history covers its rich mix of ethnic groups added to the indigenous Berbers/Amazigh people. Amazigh have been present throughout the entire history of the country. For most of its history, Libya has been subjected to varying degrees of scholar control, from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The modern history of independent Libya, as reflected in the many revolutions denoted under many moons began before Romantic time or Justinian scribing.

Slavery Treatment of people as property

Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave, who is someone forbidden to quit their service for another person, while treated as property. Slavery typically involves the enslaved person being made to perform some form of work while also having their location dictated by the slaver. Historically, when people were enslaved, it was often because they were indebted, or broke the law, or suffered a military defeat, and the duration of their enslavement was either for life or for a fixed period of time after which freedom was granted. Individuals, then, usually became slaves involuntarily, due to force or coercion, although there was also voluntary slavery to pay a debt or obtain money for some purpose. In the course of human history, slavery was a typical feature of civilization, and legal in most societies, but it is now outlawed in all countries of the world, except as punishment for crime.

Sexual slavery Slavery with the intention of using the slaves for sex

Sexual slavery and sexual exploitation is attaching the right of ownership over one or more people with the intent of coercing or otherwise forcing them to engage in sexual activities. This includes forced labor, reducing a person to a servile status and sex trafficking persons, such as the sexual trafficking of children.

Sabha, Libya Place in Fezzan, Libya

Sabha, or Sebha, is an oasis city in southwestern Libya, approximately 640 kilometres (400 mi) south of Tripoli. It was historically the capital of the Fezzan region and the Military Territory of Fezzan-Ghadames and is now capital of the Sabha District. Sabha Air Base, south of the city, is a Libyan Air Force installation that is home to multiple MiG-25 aircraft.

Slave market Place where slaves are bought and sold

A slave market is a place where slaves are bought and sold. These markets became a key phenomenon in the history of slavery.

White slavery Enslavement of people of European descent

White slavery refers to the chattel slavery of Europeans, whether by non-Europeans, or by other Europeans. Slaves of European origin were present in ancient Rome and the Ottoman Empire.

Human rights in Libya

Human rights in Libya is the record of human rights upheld and violated in various stages of Libya's history. The Kingdom of Libya, from 1951 to 1969, was heavily influenced and educated by the British and Y.R.K companies. Under the King, Libya had a constitution. The kingdom, however, was marked by a feudal regime, where Libya had a low literacy rate of 10%, a low life expectancy of 57 years, and 40% of the population lived in shanties, tents, or caves. Illiteracy and homelessness were chronic problems during this era, when iron shacks dotted many urban centres on the country.

History of slavery Aspect of history

The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. Likewise, its victims have come from many different ethnicities and religious groups. The social, economic, and legal positions of slaves have differed vastly in different systems of slavery in different times and places.

Barbary slave trade Slave markets in North Africa

The Barbary slave trade refers to slave markets on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman states of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and 19th century. The Ottoman states in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were quasi-independent.

Slavery in the 21st century

Contemporary slavery, also known as modern slavery or neo-slavery, refers to institutional slavery that continues to occur in present-day society. Estimates of the number of slaves today range from around 38 million to 46 million, depending on the method used to form the estimate and the definition of slavery being used. The estimated number of slaves is debated, as there is no universally agreed definition of modern slavery; those in slavery are often difficult to identify, and adequate statistics are often not available. The International Labour Organization estimates that, by their definitions, over 40 million people are in some form of slavery today. 24.9 million people are in forced labor, of whom 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities. 15.4 million people are in forced marriage.

Italy is a destination and transit country for women, children, and men trafficked transnationally for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Women and children are trafficked mainly from Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Albania, and Ukraine but also from Russia, South America, North and East Africa, the Middle East, China, and Uzbekistan. Chinese men and women are trafficked to Italy for the purpose of forced labor. Roma children continue to be trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced begging. Reportedly, an increasing number of victims are trafficked for labor, mostly in the agricultural sector. According to one NGO, 90 percent of foreign seasonal workers are unregistered and two-thirds are in Italy illegally, rendering them vulnerable to trafficking. The top five source countries for agricultural workers are Romania, Pakistan, Albania, and Ivory Coast. Traffickers reportedly are moving victims more frequently within Italy, often keeping victims in major cities for only a few months at a time, in an attempt to evade police detection.

The outbreak of the Libyan Civil War was followed by accusations of human rights violations by rebel forces opposed to Muammar Gaddafi, Gaddafi's armed forces, and NATO. The alleged violations include rape, extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, misconduct and bombings of civilians.

Libya is a predominantly Arab country with many people of descent identifying as Arabs. The Arab population has traditionally held racist views towards black-skinned, sub-Saharan Africans. The New York Times argues that Libya has a "long history of racist violence."

Prostitution in Libya is illegal, but common. Since the country's Cultural Revolution in 1973, laws based on Sharia law's zina are used against prostitutes; the punishment can be 100 lashes. Exploitation of prostitutes, living off the earnings of prostitution or being involved in the running of brothels is outlawed by Article 417 of the Libyan Penal Code. Buying sexual services isn't prohibited by law, but may contravene Sharia law.

Slavery in Niger

Slavery in Niger involves a number of different practices which have been practiced in the Sahel region for many centuries and which persist to this day. The Bornu Empire in the eastern part of Niger was an active part of the trans-Saharan slave trade for hundreds of years. Other ethnic groups in the country similarly had a history of slavery, although this varied and in some places slavery was largely limited to the political and economic elite. When the French took control of the area they largely ignored the problem and only actively banned the trade in slaves but not the practices of slavery. Following independence, many of the major slave holders became prominent political leaders in both the multiparty democracy period and the military dictatorship, and so the problem of slavery was largely ignored. In 2003, with pressure from the anti-slavery organization Timidria, Niger passed the first law in Western Africa that criminalized slavery as a specific crime. Despite this, slavery persists throughout the different ethnic groups in the country, women are particularly vulnerable, and a 2002 census confirmed the existence of 43,000 slaves and estimated that the total population could be over 870,000 people. The landmark Mani v. Niger case was one of the first instances where a person won a judgement against the government of Niger in an international court for sanctioning her slave status in official decisions.

History of slavery in the Muslim world History of slavery in Islamic lands

The Muslim world initially inherited the institution of slavery from pre-Islamic Arabia; and the practice of keeping slaves subsequently developed in radically different ways, depending on social-political factors such as the Arab slave trade. Throughout Islamic history, slaves served in various social and economic roles, from powerful emirs to harshly treated manual laborers. Early on in Muslim history slaves provided plantation labor similar to that in the early-modern Americas, but this practice was abandoned after harsh treatment led to destructive slave revolts, the most notable being the Zanj Rebellion of 869–883. Slaves were widely employed in irrigation, mining, and animal husbandry, but most commonly as soldiers, guards, domestic workers, and concubines. Many rulers relied on military slaves and on slaves in administration - to such a degree that the slaves could sometimes seize power. Among black slaves, there were roughly two females to every one male. Two rough estimates by scholars of the numbers of just one group - black slaves held over twelve centuries in the Muslim world - are 11.5 million and 14 million, while other estimates indicate a number between 12 and 15 million African slaves prior to the 20th century.

The Bani Walid detention camp is a secret prison in northwest Libya near the town of Bani Walid. Prisoners at the center often come from subsaharan Africa en route to Europe, and include adolescents and women. In order to extort their families, detention guards reportedly torture, rape, or threaten prisoners, who face similar conditions in other camps in the region. In May 2018, many Bani Walid prisoners attempted to escape, with most being shot or recaptured.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2388 condemned human trafficking, in particular by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS), as well as human rights violations by various African terror groups. The resolution was passed in a 15–0 vote, unanimously adopted by members of United Nations Security Council (UNSC). on November 21, 2017.

Sex trafficking in China is human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and slavery that occurs in the People's Republic of China. China, the world's most populous country, has the second highest number of human trafficking victims in the world. It is a country of origin, destination, and transit for sexually trafficked persons.

Trans-Saharan slave trade Slave trade

During the Trans-Saharan slave trade, slaves from West Africa were transported across the Sahara desert to North Africa to be sold to Mediterranean and Middle eastern civilizations. It was part of the Trans-Saharan trade.


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