Recent horrific events in Libya have angered many across the world. On Tuesday 12th December, I was part of the people who protested in Accra against the situation in Libya. A week prior, reports had emerged of people being sold in slave markets just like how tomatoes are sold in Makola market. In our protests, some of our placards read “US/NATO, are you happy now?” It was an important rallying call against not only the barbarism being exhibited but the conditions making this situation possible in the first place.
Few days later, I read an opinion piece by Robert Jackson, US Ambassador to Ghana titled “Seeing the slaves in our midst”. In that article, Mr. Jackson talks about many things. But mainly, he talks about the events in Libya, and calls on us to look beyond Libya and consider modern slavery in its wider context, while acknowledging the prevalence of the practice in many countries including in the United States.
I found Mr. Jackson’s call very interesting. First, he does so without acknowledging the role of the United States, the country he represents, his country, in creating the situation we have in Libya, or at least conditions for it to thrive. It is trite knowledge that the United States and NATO illegally invaded Libya and toppled its legitimate government, in fact killed the President. They did so with jubilation; Hillary Clinton who was the Secretary of State then proclaimed, “we came, we saw, he died”. Although years later, Barack Obama, the US President who authorized the killing of another country’s president, regretted not planning for the aftermath of that dastardly act, neither the US nor the former President has accepted responsibility for the situation in Libya, let alone take any meaningful action to cause its rebuilding. Yet their actions made sure that the once prosperous country has become a lawless, stateless entity being ruled by several militias and unable to maintain the most basic security for its citizens. Against such a background, the US ambassador could not have forgotten that the “slave markets” in Libya have come about due to the atrocious acts of his country and its allies. This is part of the truth which must be acknowledged.
Yes, we will look beyond Libya. And when I look beyond Libya, what I see is the footprint of the United States in creating slave-like situations in other countries. Some US multinational corporations have been found to engage in the use of labour in slave conditions in many countries. Before, we say that these are private corporations which are violating US law on these things, we must remind ourselves that the US government itself is involved in creating slavery, and indeed killing people. A couple of examples may help clarify this point.
In Iraq, by the time the US declared an official end to the war, the United States’ illegal invasion of the country killed more than 100,000 civilians including women and children. Many Iraqis endure slave-like conditions due to the ruins which the US reduced their lives to. Not long ago, the United States President publicly recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Although this has been the position of the US Congress since 1995, many (and I’m not part of this lot) believe it is a major shift in US policy further escalating the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader volatile security situation in the Middle East. This recognition is the continuation of the flagrant violation of international law including UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly state the status of Jerusalem (refer to resolutions 252, 267, 271, 276 etc). Resolution 478 specifically states that “measures which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council”. US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has served to create a situation of apartheid, and this is not my word. Refer to the report of the UN committee that investigated the question of apartheid in Israel. I shudder to think the Palestinians and Arab Israelis will see any difference between slavery and apartheid.
And may I remind that Israel continues to be an occupying power, and it has been one since 1967 in violation of international law, and this violation has been possible due to the active and sometimes aggressive support of the US. It is important that Mr. Jackson acknowledges this part of the truth.
Besides all the above, US allies have been found by Amnesty International in its report to be complicit in the slavery in Libya. Why would Robert Jackson gloss over all these aspects of the truth? The essence is to downplay the contribution of external factors to these acts which have become so notorious.
We all accept our responsibility to stem the tide of modern slavery in our communities and neighbourhoods but large scale slave-making policies and actions by the US and other countries must also be stopped. Robert Jackson should acknowledge this.
When only one aspect of truth is acknowledged and the other not, then it falls short of truth; for truth is indivisible.