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Story highlights

A UN panel says it was "extremely disturbed" by CNN's report on slavery in Libya

The panel calls on European countries to create safer conditions for migrants

(CNN) —  

The United Nations urged Libya to “take urgent action” to end the trade in enslaved people, a practice exposed by CNN’s exclusive reporting that showed human slave auctions in the country.

In a written statement released on Thursday from a panel of UN experts including Urmila Bhoola, special rapporteur on contemporary slavery, and Felipe Gonzalez Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the panel said it was “extremely disturbed” by the images.

“It is now clear that slavery is an outrageous reality in Libya. The auctions are reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder.”

The slave trade was brought to the United Nations’ attention after undercover CNN reporters witnessed a dozen men being sold at auction outside Libya’s capital of Tripoli.

Many of those being sold are migrants like Victory, a 21-year-old man who fled Nigeria and spent his life savings in hopes of reaching Europe. He made it as far as Libya when he ran out of funds, he told CNN, and smugglers sold him as a day laborer to make back a profit.

Victory was sold as a slave several times; the smugglers also demanded ransom payments from his family before they eventually released him.

The report has caused a harsh backlash across Africa and Europe, led to protests outside the Libyan Embassy in Paris and sparked calls for a deeper investigation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was horrified by the reports and said they may amount to crimes against humanity.

A woman holds a flag of Cameroon during a march against "slavery in Libya" on November 18 in Paris.
PHOTO: GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
A woman holds a flag of Cameroon during a march against "slavery in Libya" on November 18 in Paris.

The UN panel on Thursday called on the international community, in particular the European Union and European states, to address the issue, saying that present policies cause a “dangerous trade,” because they prevent a safe rite of passage for migrants and refugees.

“The government and the international community, particularly the EU, which is the destination of most of the migrants, must take immediate and decisive action to ensure that this crime does not continue. They must also urgently prioritize the release of all those people who have been enslaved. Enslavement is most often an extreme form of racial discrimination,” the panel added.

“It is a dangerous trend that European states are shifting responsibility for migrants to African countries instead of creating regular, safe, affordable and accessible channels for them,” the panel said. “Any agreement reached with the Libyan authorities needs to be in line with international human rights standards. European states can be held accountable for any human rights violations migrants are subject to.”