Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
Members of the United Nations Security Council rose from a meeting summoned to discuss the killing of over 44 migrants following the airstrike that hit their detention center in Libya, without agreeing on a line of action.
Apparently, the agenda of the meeting was overshadowed by the vested interest of the major world powers who exercise the veto power in the Security Council. 44 migrants died and 130 were injured following the airstrike that hit the Tajoura detention center last week. The forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by war lord General Khalifa Hafter had targeted the site as part of its ongoing campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Though no official reason was given for this despicable act, some analysts believe it was because Tajoura has several military sites (housing weapons) belonging to the GNA. The death of the migrants was horrifying.
Reports said those who died were “crushed under debris as they slept. Pictures shared by the migrants show the hanger reduced to a pile of rubble, littered with body parts mixed with the belongings and blood-soaked clothes of migrants. More than 48 hours after the strike, relief workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble while the wounded lay on bloody mattresses in a courtyard, receiving medical aid.”
Part of the building was obliterated with a black hole in the roof of another section. From across the world, individuals, groups and organisations including the European Union and relevant UN agencies expressed fury over the cold ‘murder’ of the innocent migrants. The expectation was that the UN through the Security Council will be swift in taking action against whoever is found culpable.
But this was not the case when the Security Council deliberated on the matter. Rather, a two-hour closed door meeting of the most powerful organ of the world body ended with members not agreeing on what action to take. The United States refused to endorse a statement by Britain “that would have condemned the deadly airstrike blamed on commander Khalifa Hafter’s forces, called for a ceasefire and a return to political talks.”This is even as the UN said it had reports that Libyan guards shot at refugees and migrants who were trying to flee the airstrikes. The report also said six of the dead were children.
Tajoura including the other detention centers were approved by the Department of Combating Illegal Migrants (DCIM) and therefore there should be no excuse for target for bombing it by any of the warring factions.
The UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame had said the attack “clearly could constitute a war crime.” The inaction of the most powerful organ of the UN again brings to fore how the vested interest of the major actors in Libya peace talks is making it extremely difficult for the once rich North African country to rise from its knees. Salame captured the mood of well meaning people when he said the airstrike “killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter.”
Since the death of former strongman Moummar Ghadafi, Libya has remained a lawless country because of the failure of the international community to collectively take a bold step to restore law and order in the country.
The scramble for the wealth and especially the control of the oil of the country has eclipsed the desire for a strong, united and stable state. The major actors in the peace process remain divided. While some of the countries including the UN are steadfast in their resolve to encourage the government in Tripoli to oversee the affairs of the country leading to democratic elections, the other countries continue to give tacit support to Hafter.
But even then, it is illogical for any member of the UN Security Council to decide to play politics with the lives of migrants who had the misfortune to be trapped in Libya. The argument that Tajoura is housing the weapons of the forces of the GNA cannot be sufficient reason for any of the militia groups including the LNA to target migrants detained in the centers.
How can the Security Council explain its failure to consider sanctions against the LNA to serve as deterrence to others. Certainly, it cannot be a case of doubt as to who did it. This is because the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who was outraged by the killings had prior to the Security Council meeting, called for “an independent investigation into the deadly strike.”
Therefore, the onus was on the Security Council s to immediately institute a probe to clear any doubt as to who to hold responsible for the attack. The statement credited to General Khaled el-Mahjoub, spokesperson for the LNA was revealing enough. First, he denied that his forces targeted the detention center but quickly added that “it was the militia camp in the Tajoura neighbourhood that was the target.
Then he made a twist and decided to play with words as he could not deny outright that the detention center was bombed. He said: “We didn’t give orders to target the shelter,”just as he accused the GNA and its allies of using detained migrants as human shield, by placing them in ammunition storage places.
In other word, any migrant killed was a human shield in the targeted building. What a sordid argument. Reports say “the plight of migrants in Libya has worsened since Hafter launched the offensive against Tripoli”in April.
But addressing the problem of wanton killing of migrants in Libya by militia groups is not the sole responsibility of the UN Security Council. Other bodies such as the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union must act beyond rhetoric. These bodies have condemned the killing in strong terms.
Absolutely, words should be marched with action. Libya is a member of the African Union as well as the Arab League. Ironically, the country has become a death trap for citizens of the two organisations. It will be nothing but an abdication of responsibility for the African Union and the Arab League to continue to look on while heinous ‘crimes’ are being committed against the citizens of member states.
If the Arab League and the African Union had been forthright in dealing with the situation, Libya would not have deteriorated to such an inhuman level. The ineffectiveness of the leadership of the two organisations is also to blame for the continued state of anarchy in Libya.
A recent report by the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM) said “among those who are particularly at risk of abuse in Libya are those from sub-Saharan countries, who are subjected to widespread racism, which has been exasperated by the crisis.”
The report drew attention to “slave markets” where sub-Saharan migrants are “being sold and bought by Libyans.”Of course, leaders of African countries know their citizens are being sold as slaves. Needless to draw attention to those who drown while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in their resolve to reach Europe, those who have been forced into prostitution, those young girls who have fatherless babies, those who have been forced to be carriers of arms and ammunitions for militia groups, those who are victims of forced labour and rape, to mention but a few ugly situations migrants, particularly of sub-Saharan Africa face daily.
Yet, the authorities in Africa appear hamstrung in taking concrete actions, except for the few countries that have tried to repatriate some of their citizens. The death of the 44 migrants should spur African countries to become decisive in addressing the crisis of migrants not only in Libya but also those languishing in the Sahara desert and other regions of the world..
A day after the 44 migrants were killed, another 82 were reported missing at sea after a boat carrying 86 migrants sink in the Mediterranean Sea. Only three passengers survived the shipwreck which occurred off the Tunisian city of Zarzis.
Following the disaster, the European Union received a backlash because of its hash policy toward migrants, especially those from Africa. The UN and rights group did not hold back their anger when they blamed the EU’s policy of partnering with Libyan militias to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Their argument was clear. The EU policy puts “migrants at the mercy of brutal traffickers or confined in detention facilities near front lines, often without adequate food and water.”And worrisome is the realisation that the traffickers become major players in the affairs of Libya as they become wealthy. Besides the easy money they make from human trafficking, they use the also smuggle weapons which are sold to the militias. In other words they neck deep in two ugly businesses ruining Africa.
But it is not only airstrikes, forced labour, forced prostitution, rape and the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea that is responsible for the death of migrants. Migrants are being sent to their graves due to lack of health care. They are exposed to diseases and health hazards.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) (OHCHR) on June 7, 2019, reported that “Migrants and refugees suffering from tuberculosis are being left ‘effectively to die’ in a Libyan detention center south of Tripoli.
OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said 22 people had died of tuberculosis at the Zintan facility since last September. His words: “Tuberculosis need not be a killer disease, but in these circumstances, clearly it is killing people and there must be a risk that more will die.”Colville also revealed that “there’s another report that people are being sent to a different place near the front line effectively to die there, because they are Christians, and there are no burial facilities near Zintan.”
The international community and particularly the UN Security Council must take due cognisance of the menace Libyan militias constitute to mankind. While the leaders of the warring factions are living in their respective ‘safe haven,’the ordinary Libyans are suffering, hoping that a messiah would come someday to save them. Absolutely, Libyans are exploiting the chaos in the country to achieve their selfish interest are likely to be consumed by the crisis. Similarly, foreign interests hoping to divide and rule the country may be disappointed when the chips are down. Libya is a test case for the UN Security Council and it must not fail the people.