June 8, 2018 / 11:53 AM / 16 days ago

Landmark U.N. Libya trafficking sanctions need tough follow-up: experts

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Landmark sanctions imposed by the United Nations on six people involved in trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya sends a strong message to criminal networks, yet Europe must also take action, politicians, aid officials and analysts said on Friday.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday placed the six men under a global travel ban and an assets freeze, the first time traffickers have been put on an international sanctions list.

The proposal came after a video appearing to show Africans sold as slaves in Libya sparked global outrage last year and put the spotlight on the lawless nation where thousands of migrants are held, tortured, and killed, according to the United Nations.

“(This) sends a clear message: we are tackling human trafficking in Libya,” Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said in a statement echoed by his British counterpart Boris Johnson.

The Netherlands, backed by France, Germany, Britain and the United States, asked the 15-member council’s Libya sanctions committee last month to take action against the six individuals.

The sanctions went into immediate effect on Thursday after Russia lifted a hold it had set on the request last month.

“Finally some states have stopped playing politics and these sanctions are significant,” U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) senior official Vincent Cochetel said on Twitter.

“It is a good start,” the UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean added. “More should follow.”

The rise of anti-immigration political parties in nations from Italy to Slovenia and Europe-wide efforts to stem migration means more migrants in Libya are struggling to leave and are falling into the hands of traffickers, according to experts.

About 140 East African migrants escaped from traffickers holding them captive near the Libyan town of Bani Walid last month, with several hospitalized due to torture during captivity or efforts to recapture them, the U.N. migration agency said.

Cochetel this week told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Conference at the European Parliament that Europe needs to do more to stop the illegal trade in Libya in inflatable boats which are bought from China and exported through the continent.

The sanctioned men are four Libyans, including a regional coast guard leader and militia head, and two Eritrean nationals.

“Do not put too much emphasis on individuals ... illicit networks don’t rely on just six men,” Jalel Harchaoui, an associate at North Africa Risk Consulting, said on Twitter.

“Western states - when it comes to illicit activities in Libya - must first focus on not being complicit,” he added, referring to how one of the blacklisted men - a militia leader - had been supported by Italy and the European Union last year.

A resolution urging tougher action to crack down on human trafficking and modern slavery worldwide was approved by the U.N. Security Council in November, and all countries have backed a U.N. development goal of ending slavery by 2030.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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