UN Security Council imposes sanctions on six people involved in human trafficking and smuggling in Libya

The six men – four Libyans and two Eritreans – exploited Sub-Saharan Africans seeking to cross the Mediterranean across Libya. The sanctions, which went into immediate effect on Thursday 7 June, will freeze their bank accounts and ban them from international travel. These imposed sanctions follow the publication of the book “Human Trafficking and Trauma in the Digital Era. The Ongoing Tragedy of the Trade in Refugees from Eritrea.” (eds. Mirjam van Reisen & Munyaradzi Mawere, Langaa. 2017) which presented the conclusion that Eritrean refugees are trafficked by networks that are led by fellow Eritreans.

It is the first time that the UN Security Council imposes sanctions on people involved in violent human trafficking and smuggling. Traffickers often torture people to extract ransom from them, a situation that has been ongoing since around 2009 (then in the Sinai desert).  One of the triggers has been reported to be a film footage that showed Africans auctioned as slaves in Libya. After a timely investigation, The Netherlands, supported by France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom put forward the motion for sanctions. Russia had put a hold on the motion in May requesting more evidence but they dropped any objections on Thursday. The six individuals include Fitiwi Abdelrazak of Eritrea, Libyan Mus’ab Abu-Qarin,who is accused of organizing an April 2015 crossing resulting in the deaths of 800 people, and Abd al Rahman al-Milad, who heads the regional unit of the Coast Guard in Zawiya and is believed to collaborate with smugglers. Documents cited Al-Milad for collaborating with other coast guard members in putting fire on migrant boats to cause them to sink. Then, they were reported for picking up refugees at sea who were sent to detention centers and beaten. Others in the proposed blacklist have been Ermias Ghermay of Eritrea, described as leader of a network responsible for trafficking and smuggling people from the Horn of Africa to the coast of Libya and then to Europe and the United States. Other times, the dangerous journeys ended in shipwrecks. Ghermay and Abelrazak were also cited for owing private detention camps in Libya.

The rest are Libyan militia leader Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi and Libyan Mohammed Kachlaf, head of the Shuhada al Nasr brigade in Zawiya, western Libya.

Dutch prosecutors said that the men were millionaires and acted with impunity. In a tweet, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, welcomed the sanctions as significant and “a good start”.

Libya is known for its character as a transit country for migrants and refugees on their way to Europe. Fleeing human rights abuses, poverty and conflict, migrants and refugees are driven into the hands of smugglers and traffickers. Critics fear that, due to the EU’s growing externalized border controls to stop the migration flows, as well as due to other barriers such as alleged bribes being demanded by the UNHCR, people are becoming trapped. In this way, the smuggling and trafficking business has grown, especially after the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

The book “Human Trafficking and Trauma in the Digital Era. The Ongoing Tragedy of the Trade in Refugees from Eritrea” had named some of these individuals and has pointed to the involvement of Eritrean authorities, notably the Eritrean embassy in Libya. This shows that Eritrean authorities are actively involved in the trade of its own people. The findings were based on the work of several researchers, notably Meron Estefanos, Mirjam van Reisen and Selam Kidane.

The book points to the importance of combatting impunity of human trafficking and suggests that the UN Security Council should consider the report of the UN Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which concluded that crimes against humanity have been committed and are ongoing in the country.