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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Libya slavery protest hijacked for UAE embassy demonstrations

The founder of the campaign told The National protests would target UAE embassies in Europe and the US

Police marshal protesters during a demonstration against slavery and pro-human rights organised by the'African Lives Matter' movement as they block traffic near the Houses of Parliament in central London. Daniel Leal-Olivas/ AFP Photo
Police marshal protesters during a demonstration against slavery and pro-human rights organised by the'African Lives Matter' movement as they block traffic near the Houses of Parliament in central London. Daniel Leal-Olivas/ AFP Photo

A protest movement that mobilised in the wake of a CNN report breaking news of modern day slave auctions in Libya has been hijacked to target protests at UAE embassies in Europe and the US.

African Lives Matter was created in response to the American channel’s revelations last year about the sale of black migrants as forced labour near the Libyan capital Tripoli. It has grown rapidly and successfully called on hundreds to demonstrate against the trade outside the British parliament and Downing St.

The September reports featured footage of a slave auction at an undisclosed location in Libya and a CNN team later travelled to the suburbs of Tripoli to witness a second sale of humans as indentured workers. The areas featured were in lawless parts of the country held by the Libya Dawn coalition of Islamists, sworn rivals of Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army.

Despite this division, a campaign on the internet has called for demonstrations outside the UAE embassies in London, Paris and Washington on Saturday. Its publicity material makes claims of a link with slavery in Libya and promises that the protests outside the embassies would end the scourge.

Speaking to The National from the London suburbs, Koffi Nyonator, the founder of the campaign, said he had been approached by a UAE focused group that is run by hard-Left activists and Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers to mount this weekend’s protests. Their viral campaigns include a video that makes allegations about armed groups holding the slaves receiving support from the region. A poster setting out similar themes is ready for download for those who attend.

In numerous tweets on the timelines of both organisations the issue of conditions for legitimate migrant labour forces in the region is conflated with the internationally recognised crime of slavery.

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Yet Mr Nyonator said he was happy to join forces with the unrelated UAE focused campaign as, he said, they had supported his demands. “We have a lot of organisations that come to us that want to work with our protests and we will work with them if they are willing to help us bring death to slavery,” he said. “They have come to us and they have told the latest about slavery and we believe them. What’s important is what we are fighting for and that’s why we protest.”

The UAE government has been a clear supporter of the UN-led efforts to restore the authority of the unity Government of National Accord headed by Fayez Al Sarraj in Libya as well as an ally of Field Marshal Haftar’s national army as it fights against extremist strongholds in the country.

None of the areas where slave auctions have been held are controlled by either body. According to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations updated last week, the parts of Tripoli cited are in rebel hands.

“In Libya there are very few truly national actors. The vast majority are local players, some of whom are relevant at the national level while representing the interests of their region, or in most cases, their city,” it said. “Many important actors, particularly outside of the largest cities, also have tribal allegiances.”

Tripoli remained in the hands of the so-called Government of National Salvation, which relies on militia support. “The speaker of the General National Congress Nouri Abusahmain and the prime minister of the “Government of National Salvation” Khalifa Ghwell, come from the cities of Zwara and Misrata respectively. Their military support base is the Steadfastness Front (Jabhat al-Samud) of Salah Badi. Initially they represented the Libya Dawn coalition which included Islamists, the city-state of Misrata, and several other western cities.”

Olivier Guitta, the founder of GlobalStrat, a security consultancy, said the attempt to create a link to Field Marshal Haftar was “Fake News”.

“This is barking up the wrong tree and huge attempt to create fake news,” the Libya expert said. “The militias in Tripoli are the ones controlling these areas not Haftar. In fact his whole involvement in politics is to get support to re-establish control over these areas.

“All is black and white from the outside and you can convince people of these things but these claims are dead in the water from the facts,” he said. “Look at the money issue. Haftar has enough support, he does not need to do these things but the militias do. They very much need the money from migrants and slavery.”

African Lives Matter has attracted support from celebrities including the model Cara Delevingne.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch warned this week that militias continued to exploit tens of thousands of migrants trying to flee to Europe. ‘‘Militias, smugglers, and guards in detention centers subjected thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who continued to flock to Libya, most hoping to reach Europe by sea, to beatings, sexual violence, and forced labour,” said the report by Eric Goldstein, it’s deputy middle east director.