President Jacob Zuma has expressed "great repulsion" over the violation of the rights of African migrants who are auctioned off as labourers in Libya. File picture: Hamza Turkia/Xinhua

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has expressed "great repulsion" over the violation of the rights of African migrants who are unlawfully detained, abused and auctioned off as labourers in Libya, an act that constitutes modern-day slavery.

“We are shocked and outraged by the reports of the auctioning of African migrants in Libya and the unlawful detention of thousands of them, including pregnant women and children," said Zuma, who has concluded his visit to Côte d’Ivoire, where he attended the Fifth African Union-European Union Summit held in Abidjan. 

A statement issued by the Presidency on Friday quoted Zuma as saying: "We condemn this gross violation of human rights in the strongest possible terms and we all agreed that the two regions should work together with authorities in Libya to urgently curb this appalling situation in Libya".  

Read more: Slavery in Libya has long been ignored

Zuma added: “We unanimously agreed that the Libyan government should immediately institute investigations on this matter and publish the report. We also agreed that the two regions and the United Nations will study that report and if there are any challenges or discrepancies, these institutions will have to intervene immediately.

"We cannot let the calls for justice for these victims go unheard. We need to act decisively and support the Libyan Government of National Accord to address this human tragedy and eradicate the scourge of modern day slavery, exploitation and forced labour, currently unfolding in front of our eyes.” 

The summit, which Zuma described as positive, was urged to call on the international community to urgently provide financial, material and technical support for the efforts of the AU Commission, the International Organisation for Migration and the countries whose nationals are stranded in Libya, to facilitate the return of migrants who wish to be repatriated.

Also read: Calls mount to rescue migrants from Libya 'slave trade'

Zuma said South Africa was of the view that there was a need for both regions to swiftly address the underlying factors that force the migrants to flee their countries including conflicts, underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and lack economic opportunities in Africa

On a national level, the Presidency said the summit gave new impetus to the South Africa-EU Strategic Partnership.

Zuma held a bilateral meeting with the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, on the sidelines of the summit where the two leaders agreed on the need to strengthen the partnership.

“Our meeting with EU Commission President was very successful and we agreed that we will hold a South Africa-EU Strategic Partnership summit early next year in Europe as the last summit was held in South Africa in 2013," said Zuma.

"Our political and economic relations with the European Union have been very strong and cordial and we are looking forward to the summit next year that will further reinforce and cement our relations."

Zuma said South Africa also used the summit to lobby the European Union to support its campaign to get a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council next year. 

Read more: EU, UN and AU draw up emergency plan to fight Libya 'slave trade'

"We further used the summit to lobby the EU countries to support Africa and other regions’ call for the transformation of the United Nations structures for the benefit of all member states, not the few, and also to change the nature in which the UN is operating particularly the Security Council,” President Zuma concluded."   

Zuma said overall the summit, which took place under the theme: “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth”, was positive and fruitful as the two regions agreed on various issues of mutual concern particularly trade and investment, youth development as well as peace and security.

He said there was a unanimous view from leaders of both regions that there was an urgent need to change the nature of the relations between the AU and EU from the post-colonial model of dependency to a new partnership of interdependence.

During the summit most leaders from both regions raised a strong view that in order to strengthen our relations, it was essential to assess and review the relationship between the two regions whose genesis was characterised by the said trilogy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism.

“There was a common view that this relationship, which is evolving from a donor-recipient model, was largely benefiting European countries and that can longer be sustained, therefore fundamental changes were needed," the Presidency said. 

A number of leaders from both regions agreed that the continued underdevelopment of Africa and conflicts in certain parts of the continent were, to a certain extent, the result of the history of the uneven relationship. 

"Therefore there was an urgent need to fundamentally transform the structure and content of our relations into a new meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership that will particularly benefit the youth and women,” the President said.

Zuma was accompanied by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Trade and Industry Deputy Minsiter Bulelani Magwanishe.