The plight of migrants in Libya was the focal point of a U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday after CNN aired shocking footage of African migrants apparently being sold as slaves in that country.
The envoys called for the prosecution and the possible imposition of sanctions on human traffickers and their networks.
The footage that aired last week, in which young men from Niger and other sub-Saharan countries were shown being auctioned off as farm workers for about $400, sparked international outrage, including protests in Europe and Africa.
Libya’s U.N. envoy, Elmahdi Elmajerbi, said the government was investigating the CNN video, but he questioned its authenticity and said his country was the victim of "a large-scale false media campaign of defamation" trying to portray Libya as a racist country.
French U.N. Ambassador François Delattre, whose government called for the council meeting, said victims were subjected to horrific human rights violations including rape, torture and arbitrary detention.
Such practices "are not merely intolerable from the moral standpoint, they also constitute crimes against humanity, and they must not, they cannot, be left unpunished,” he said through an interpreter.
The U.N. envoy recommended that the council impose targeted sanctions against individuals implicated in human trafficking and suggested that perpetrators could be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
Several council members also urged measures to address the root causes of forced migration, especially poverty, and they called for opening new legal pathways for migrants.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said 17,000 migrants were in detention in Libya and many more were being held by smugglers and traffickers protected by militia groups. He said the United Nations had secured the release of about 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees this year.