Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security in Libya

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 28, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you also to UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi and IOM Director General Bill Swing for their timely updates.

Over the past week, a video of African migrants sold as slaves in Libya has rightly sparked moral outrage around the world. It is an abomination to see human beings bought and sold. These reports should be profoundly disturbing to all of us, and they should inspire us to act. As Ambassador Haley said last week, “there is no place in our world for slavery.” We must hold the perpetrators of such acts accountable for their crimes.

We welcome the Libyan Government of National Accord’s condemnation of slavery and human trafficking and its announcement that it is conducting an investigation into the latest reports. The United States reiterates our call for a full investigation and for those involved to be brought to justice as soon as possible.

This video was the latest of many deeply disturbing reports about the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. The fact is that ruthless smugglers are preying on desperate migrants and refugees with no regard at all for human dignity. Human traffickers detain these people in appalling conditions, where beatings, torture, and rape have become commonplace. Migrants and refugees who cannot afford exorbitant ransom payments are abused and exploited. They are forced to work on farms, on construction sites, as part of armed militias and gangs, or as we saw, sold off to the highest bidder.

Under these circumstances, the United States welcomes international efforts to provide assistance and protection to displaced people and migrants in Libya, including the efforts by UNHCR and IOM that we’ve just heard about. The international community must support greater documentation of abuses in Libya, as well as programs to ensure humane treatment for migrants and refugees.

Since 2011, the United States has contributed generously to UNHCR, IOM, and other partners’ regional humanitarian assistance programs, and more than $150 million dollars specifically to help refugees and vulnerable migrants in Libya as well as those displaced internally by violence. Upholding international protection obligations is vital.

We urge the European Union and all Member States to ensure that there is consistent vetting of Libyan partners and an international presence at disembarkation points and in detention facilities, as well as a process to ensure access to protection. Of course, the only long-term solution to the challenge of migration through Libya is to stabilize Libya.

The smugglers responsible for abusing migrants and refugees are part of sophisticated transnational criminal networks that thrive in ungoverned or unstable spaces. These migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks also smuggle arms, narcotics, and illicit fuel across borders. Their earnings support terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qa’ida affiliates. Their presence contributes to Libya’s instability, as well as security challenges that affect the entire Mediterranean and the Sahel. Instability breeds criminal behavior and human rights abuses, which in turn lead to further instability and additional abuses, and the cycle continues.

We should continue looking for any opportunity to disrupt criminal networks in Libya using the tools of this Council, including our Libya sanctions regime. But while we face an immediate imperative to disrupt and dismantle smuggling networks, the members of this Council must also recommit to supporting the UN’s efforts to advance a more stable, unified, and secure Libya. The only viable way to achieve this goal is for all of us to lend our full support to the political process organized by SRSG Ghassan Salamé on the basis of the Libyan Political Agreement, which remains the only valid framework throughout the transitional period.

We must all use our influence to make sure that all actors in Libya engage with the UN in good faith, and stress that political dialogue is the only way forward. Any attempt to assert false deadlines, cut short the UN-facilitated political process, or impose a military solution will only further destabilize Libya, which would only help the smugglers responsible for abusing migrants and refugees.

The United States reiterates its commitment today to ending all forms of slavery, cracking down on the perpetrators, and promoting stability in Libya. It is vital that we work together to achieve these goals. We must rally support to end impunity for these abuses and ensure human rights for all in Libya.

Thank you, Mr. President.