By Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi
Migrating from home countries to others in search of better “economic pastures” has been the reality in many African countries, largely due to huge infrastructural deficits, instability in governments, slowing down economies, increased youth unemployment and sometimes violence. Several Africans are forced to leave their countries in search of “greener pastures.” Sub-Saharan African immigrants living in or traveling through Libya to Europe by sea consistently face attacks from Libyan coast guards, militia group, and smugglers, etc.
The intensity of the global advocacy of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other international organisations, has gone a long way in exposing the horrific and inhuman treatments of migrants in Libya prior to and after the fall of former Libyan leader, Ghaddafi. Reports and press statements from the groups show that women constitute a significant number of the victims of violence against migrants in Libya; they are subjected to incessant rape, coercion into performing oral sexual acts, torture, etc.
According to the United Nations, 2.44 million people in Libya need protection and some form of humanitarian support, and as of June 2016 the International Organisation for Migrants also reported that roughly 425,000 people have been displaced in Libya. In a similar development, a report of the Human Rights Watch in December 2015 documented arbitrary detentions, torture and other forms of ill-treatment in four non-immigration prisons in Tripoli and Misrata. Exposing the experiences of migrants in Libya, it narrates a few accounts, including this:
“Nourah, a 26-year-old Ivorian, said she was detained in June and July 2015 at a facility in Tajoura, on the eastern edge of Tripoli, because she did not have residence papers. A guard called Ibrahim repeatedly abused her sexually, she said:
‘He didn’t have a thumb or index finger on his left hand, I remember very well. He would come to the room and roll his cigarette and smoke among us. It was a strange smell. He chose me. He took me, he had the condom in his hand. He made me give him oral sex. He came every night. Only Fridays he didn’t come.’
Nourah said other guards took women away and abused them sexually.
‘There was a man who covered his face, he was the meanest,’ she said. ‘He would come into our room, with three or four other men. They would come to choose the girls. One girl, an Eritrean named Amira, they chose her every time. Every time they came for her she would cry.
‘One day we tried to escape, going through a hole in the wall,’ Nourah said. ‘Seven girls got away but they caught the rest of us. The guards stripped one of us, a Nigerian girl, and raped her in front of us in the courtyard.’”
In another account in the Human Rights Watch release, “Jabril from Gambia said that in 2015 Libyan forces twice intercepted boats he was on, and sent him back to Libya, where he was detained and abused. He spent six months detained in Subratha, and then another six months in Tripoli. In both places, Jabril said the guards routinely beat him and the other detainees: ‘If you are talking, they ask, “What are you saying? What are you saying? Stop.” Then they beat you. Or they beat you when you’re sleeping.’”
Similarly in the same report, a 31-year-old Gambian man recounted how criminals had raped his wife, ‘In Libya, they do whatever they like because there’s no law, no nothing.’ The records of these abuses are unending.
Since human rights are inherent to everyone as a consequence of being human, and also considering the fact that seven international conventions serve as strong instruments protecting the rights of all persons, infringing on the rights of undocumented migrants, particularly within an intra-continental context is improper and must be strongly condemned. These relevant international legislation include: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966); and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). Also, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979); Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984); Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990).
Undoubtedly, all of these seven human rights conventions, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), contain a number of rights that are applicable to undocumented migrants, as clearly spelled out in their consistent and respective non-discrimination clauses. For example, the UDHR’s preamble and thirty articles convey human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women across the world are entitled, without any form of discrimination.
Specifically, article 2 of the UDHR states that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) outlines rights, which are applicable to all, including undocumented migrants.
Recognising that the human rights of undocumented migrants are articulated and protected within many conventions and treaties at regional and international levels, these rights must be respected by all nations and governments, even under conditions of illegal migration. The severity of the abuse of human rights in Libya is overdue for sustained global intervention. At the continental level, the African Union should make advocacy on these rights and freedoms a priority issue in its activities; and the United Nations, European Union, the American government and other key players on the global scene must hold strong talks with Libyan authorities to end abuse of and violation of the human rights of migrants in Libya.
Consistent attacks and abuse of other nationals (migrants) in Libya does not only threaten Africa’s unity, but the world at large. Urgent global attention must be channelled to this issue to ensure the preservation of the rights of migrants, and promotion of peace and stability in the region.
Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi is a media practitioner.