Slave Auctions Are Alive and Well in Libya and the Videos Are Extremely Disturbing

Illegal immigrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli on December 16, 2017, after they were rescued off the coast of Garabulli, 60 kilometers (40 miles) east of the Libyan capital. / AFP PHOTO / Mahmud TURKIA (MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe have been staggering under a refugee crisis for several years. Thousands of people have attempted to flee from politically unstable and war-ravaged regions to safer shores, and many take that journey through Libya, which borders the Mediterranean Sea. Though tens of thousands have made it to Italy and Greece, and some travel through Europe to find shelter in various countries, many do not survive the trek. According to the International Organization for Migration, a migration agency affiliated with the United Nations, more than 3,000 refugees have died during each of the past four years while attempting to sail to Europe from Libya.

This crisis has caused unrest, famine and family separation, but in late November a new horror was brought to the world’s attention when video surfaced of refugees in Libya apparently being sold into slavery. The video set off a renewed international uproar over the refugee crisis, but the complicated and dangerous political situation in the region may make it difficult for aid to reach those who need it most.

In the video, apparently filmed on a cell phone in the capital, Tripoli, a man is shown auctioning off two people, who are ultimately sold for 1,200 Libyan dinars, or about $800. CNN verified the video’s authenticity and sent journalists to Libya to investigate. Thanks to those journalists’ hidden cameras, the network was able to capture its own footage of people who had hoped to gain safe passage out of Africa being sold as “big strong” workers.

These human auctions are allegedly happening in at least nine locations around Tripoli and the surrounding area, and experts say they are the result of a general lawlessness that has gripped Libya since the ouster and killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

“There is no central government to speak of,” said Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco. “There is no coast guard or border patrol to stop refugees coming from other countries to flee through Libya, or to prevent this kind of trafficking.”

How Did We Get Here?

To understand how things could get to this point, it helps to think about the region’s history.

For centuries, most of North Africa was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Italian colonizers took over in the early 20th century, hoping to lay claim to a region they called Tripolitania. After Italy was defeated there during WWII, the Allies signed a 1947 peace treaty and decolonization began. In 1951, Libya became an independent kingdom under King Idris, and the discovery of oil reserves several years later helped bring a significant amount of wealth to the country. The wealth was mostly concentrated with Idris, however, and this led to unrest.

Muammar Gaddafi led a coup in 1969 and took the helm of the country himself. He was credited with modernizing the country significantly, but he was also known as a tyrant. In the West, he was best known for his support of terrorist organizations, and for the off-the-wall comments he often made, such as when he called Ronald Reagan “mad” and an “Israeli dog.” Still, Libyans were relatively quiet even throughout the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010 and saw uprisings in much of the Middle East.

“Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya had very little in the way of civil society or any kind of independent ways of organizing,” said Zunes.

This changed with the Libyan Civil War of 2011, during which the military saw major defections, ambassadors resigned, and in less than a week the people took up arms against Gaddafi’s government. As he responded with a fierce crackdown, the international community decided to intervene. The U.S. led in carrying out strikes in the country in order to help protect civilians, a decision that President Barack Obama defends, but wishes had been better planned. He’s not alone. Some experts have gone so far as to lay the blame for the current slavery crisis at Obama’s feet.

“When you break a state and then don’t stick around to rebuild it, you create a failed state,” Alan J. Kuperman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has said.

Zunes, too, argues that the actions went beyond their mandate and violated UN security resolutions. In fact, many believed the intervention made things worse.

“It certain ways, it made it more difficult to act in those rare situations where foreign military intervention might be morally and legally justifiable to save civilian lives,” he said.

What’s Being Done

After the videos and further reporting became public in late November, the United Nations called an emergency session of its security council in New York. French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre led the call for new sanctions against Libya to address the issue. (The UN established some sanctions in 2011 because of human rights abuses, but they can be expanded.)

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, responded to the reports of trafficking by arguing that Europe and Africa share responsibility for the safety of refugees. “It is in all our interests to have orderly migration that is more controlled, more humane and sustainable,” he said in opening remarks at the summit. “The recent reports about the treatment of Africans—especially young people—by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying.”

In late November, Libya, the EU and African leaders agreed to move refugees and at-risk migrants out of Libya and back to the countries they fled, as well as to open a transit center to assist the most vulnerable as they wait to be resettled.  

President Donald Trump does not appear to have spoken publicly about the issue, but his tweets about CNN have made an impact. After CNN published its report from Libya, media inside the country called it “fake news.”

The broadcaster Libya 218 referred to the tweet as a reason to question the veracity of CNN’s reporting, arguing that the network’s reports are simply political.

“Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective,” the broadcaster reportedly said.

The Libyan government has said that it would investigate reports of human trafficking, but some Libyan diplomats have jumped on the anti-CNN train and argued that the reporting is simply meant to disparage their country.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee has people on the ground in Misrata and Sirte providing health care, and said it plans to expand to Tripoli. But, according to the IRC, “Unless Libya’s leaders reach a compromise and global leaders press for a political resolution to the conflict, the horrific trade in the lives of human beings will only continue, and the huge humanitarian need will only grow.”

On December 8, the UN Security Council seemed to make a step in this direction. “The Security Council condemns such actions as heinous abuses of human rights which may also amount to crimes against humanity,” the Council said in a statement. “The Security Council calls upon all relevant authorities to investigate such activities without delay to bring the perpetrators to justice and hold those responsible to account.”

The Council urged Libyan authorities and all UN Member States to comply with international human rights and refugee laws, and urged the transfer of any detainees in Libya to state authority. The Security Council also recommended new measures to counter slave trafficking, and urged coordination of efforts to “tackle the root causes of large movements of people.”

Toward the end of December the UK Parliament debated whether to take action, with some MPs accusing the British government of failing to effectively use its power to protect the migrants.

It may be some time before real action is taken, especially considering the turbulent political climate in other parts of the region.


If you think Fox News is the most loyal network to President Donald Trump, you likely haven't heard of One America News Network, or OAN.

The unabashedly pro-Trump network—largely considered a far-Right fringe outlet—has enjoyed expanded viewership over recent years thanks to glowing reviews from the President.

It's even been added to the prestigious White House press pool.

People were reminded of the network's bizarre Trump-era ascension during Monday's White House press briefing regarding the pandemic that—at the time of this writing—has resulted in over 3,000 deaths across the United States.

OAN's White House correspondent Chanel Rion compared the growing number of deaths from the pandemic to abortion procedures, asking Trump if abortions should be suspended all together.

The question flummoxed Trump himself.

Watch below.

Rion said:

"2,405 Americans have died from [the virus] in the last 60 days. Meanwhile, you have 2,369 children who are killed by their mothers through elective abortions each day. That's 16 and a half thousand children killed every week. Two states have suspended elective abortion to make more resources available...Should more states be doing the same?"

Even Trump seemed confused by the question, and notably didn't wade into the abortion aspect of the question:

"I think what we're doing, we're trying to, as a group ,governors—and that's Republicans and Democrats—we're just working together to solve this problem. What you're mentioning has been going on for a long time and it's a sad event, a lot of sad events in this country. But what we're doing now is working on the virus...and I think we're doing a great job—as good a job as you can possibly do."

People noticed that even Trump—either purposely or otherwise—didn't take the bait from one of his favorite networks.

Rion, who is Asian-American, previously made headlines when she asked Trump—who'd been criticized for describing the virus as "Chinese Virus"—if the phrase "Chinese food" was racist.

Her questions, while satiating viewers who prioritize "owning the libs" over potentially lifesaving information, have only confirmed the degradation of the press corps under the Trump era.

OAN's only redeemable quality? It doesn't claim to be "fair and balanced."

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The President made that perfectly clear on Sunday afternoon, as deaths caused by the national health crisis continued to increase.

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President Donald Trump held his pandemic press briefing in the Rose Garden on Sunday—but his mood was far from rosy.

One particularly heated exchange came when he took a question from PBS NewsHour's White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

Alcindor asked Trump about the the skepticism he expressed that New York—the epicenter of the health crisis facing the United States—was exaggerating the number of lifesaving ventilators it needs to help curb the virus.

Trump interrupted Alcindor, claiming he "didn't say" that, then proceeded to berate her for her so-called "threatening" question.

Watch below.

Alcindor asked:

"You've said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment governors are requesting, they don't actually need. You said New York might not need 30 thousand—"

Trump interrupted:

"I didn't say that. I didn't say that. Why don't you people...why don't you act in a little more positive? It's always trying to get me. Getcha, getcha. You know what, that's why nobody trusts the media anymore."

Though the President didn't reciprocate, Alcindor remained professional and repeated her question despite the President's attacks on her journalistic integrity in front of her colleagues.

What's more, Alcindor was right—and video proves it.

Alcindor referred to statements Trump made on far-right Fox News host Sean Hannity's show.

Watch below.

Trump said:

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40 thousand or 30 thousand ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, they'll have two ventilators and now all of a sudden they're saying, 'can we have 30 thousand ventilators?'"

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clear that New York has yet to reach the height of the pandemic. The current number of ventilators is not enough to treat all of the infections to come, which could force doctors into rationing them and choosing not to treat patients with less optimistic prognoses.

Alcindor later pointed out that Trump did, in fact, express skepticism that New York was asking for ventilators they didn't need.

People called Trump out for responding to his own words with petty attacks.

They praised Alcindor for holding him accountable when so many others won't.

This was far from the first time Trump personally attacked Alcindor for doing her job.

Astonishingly, Trump denied his own words again in the same press conference when CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond asked Trump to elaborate on his Friday statements that governors aren't being "appreciative" enough of him and his administration.

If a President isn't beholden to congressional oversight, basic transparency, and even his own words, how can he be beholden to the American people?

For more stories of Trump's ineptitude from people who were there, check out A Very Stable Genius, available here.

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