An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.
2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

You are viewing ARCHIVED CONTENT released online from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

Content in this archive site is NOT UPDATED, and links may not function.

For current information, go to www.state.gov.

SPECIAL CASE: LIBYA

Libya is a Special Case for the fifth consecutive year. The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) struggled to govern large swaths of Libyan territory, as it did not exercise control in several parts of the country. The judicial system was not fully functioning, as courts in major cities throughout the country have not been operational since 2014. Violence heightened during the reporting period, as conflict escalated between the Tripoli-based GNA and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which has sought to establish a rival government in eastern Libya and initiated an offensive to seize the capital in April 2019. The conflict was further enabled by financial or military contributions from regional states, with Turkey supporting the GNA and Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt supporting the LNA. Since April 2019, the LNA’s sustained offensive on Tripoli resulted in at least 356 civilian deaths and 329 civilian injuries and approximately 150,000 persons newly displaced from Tripoli. Extra-legal armed groups continued to fill a security vacuum across the country; such groups varied widely in their make-up and the extent to which they were under the direction of state authorities. These disparate groups committed various human rights abuses, including unlawful killings. Impunity for those committing abuses against civilians was a pervasive problem. During the reporting period, there were continued reports that criminal networks, militia groups, government officials, and private employers exploited migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers in sex and labor trafficking. Endemic corruption and militias’ influence over government ministries contributed to the GNA’s inability to effectively address trafficking.

GOVERNMENT EFFORTS

Lack of institutional capacity, as well as lack of Libyan law enforcement, customs, and military personnel, especially along its borders, hindered authorities’ efforts to combat human trafficking crimes. Libyan law criminalized some forms of sex trafficking, but did not criminalize labor trafficking. Articles 418, 419, and 420 of the penal code criminalized some forms of sex trafficking involving women and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine between 100 and 500 Libyan dinars ($72-$360), which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, inconsistent with international law, the definition of trafficking within these provisions required transnational movement of the victim and did not criminalize sex trafficking acts that were induced through fraudulent or coercive means. The law did not criminalize sex trafficking involving adult male victims. Article 425 criminalized slavery and prescribed penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. Article 426 criminalized the buying and selling of slaves and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes.

Libya’s criminal judicial system was not fully functioning in 2019, nor were there administrative units and courts specifically dedicated to overseeing human trafficking cases. Law enforcement and judicial authorities often lacked the knowledge and understanding of the crime of human trafficking. The Ministry of Interior (MOI), which was nominally responsible for anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, was limited in its ability to carry out anti-trafficking operations during the reporting period. Although entities such as the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants for alleged perpetrators of various crimes including trafficking during the reporting period, limited policing capacity hindered the government’s ability to pursue these trafficking cases. Law enforcement functions sometimes fell to disparate armed groups, which received salaries from the government and performed their activities without formal training and with varying degrees of accountability. The MOI and MOJ’s human rights directorates, which continued to function throughout the reporting period, were mandated to raise awareness of human rights violations including human trafficking crimes; however, international NGOs reported the directorates lacked the capacity to carry out their mandates. Perpetrators committing human rights abuses, including human trafficking crimes, generally operated with impunity. The government did not publicly report statistics on prosecutions or convictions of trafficking offenders, including government officials and government-aligned militias that were allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. However in October 2019, the media reported the Attorney General and Counter Terrorism Force announced the arrest of two suspects for alleged involvement in human trafficking operations. The government did not report if it prosecuted or convicted any individuals involved in the investigation of 205 suspected traffickers that the attorney general’s office initiated in 2018, nor did it report if any of the 35 arrest warrants that it issued in January 2019 resulted in trafficking prosecutions or convictions.

International observers continued to report complicity of government officials involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling operations, including Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) officials, immigration officers, security officials, Ministry of Defense (MOD) officials, members of armed groups formally integrated into state institutions, as well as officials from the MOI and MOI’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM). Various armed groups, militias, and criminal networks infiltrated the administrative ranks of the government and abused their positions to engage in illicit activities, including human trafficking and alleged child soldier recruitment and use. Several credible sources continued to report that DCIM detention center guards and administrative staff forced detained migrants to work at these detention centers and at third locations, such as farms and construction sites. There were anecdotal reports that DCIM staff at detention centers contracted armed groups and militias—some of whom likely had ties to human trafficking networks—to provide security services at individual detention centers. Anecdotal reports also suggested staff in some GNA-affiliated migrant detention centers in western Libya sold detainees to local armed groups to transport and clean weapons. There were also numerous allegations in mid-2019 that forces affiliated with the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), which nominally operated under the MOI, recruited and used child soldiers. In western Libya, numerous armed groups, including some GNA-aligned units, continued to be involved in the trafficking of detained migrants and benefited from extortion payments sent by the migrants’ family members for the migrants’ release. In addition, some LCG units, which were under the authority of the MOD, were allegedly composed of former human traffickers and smugglers or coordinated with groups involved in human trafficking, human smuggling, and other crimes. During the reporting period, the LCG unit in the city of Zawiya continued to have extensive links to the leader of the al-Nasr Martyrs Brigade militia—notorious for committing human rights violations—who ran the Zawiya migrant detention center. Militia members operating the detention center reportedly physically abused detained migrants and sold some female migrants into sexual slavery; in late 2019, the center was transformed into an army barracks for militias, further endangering detained migrants and trafficking victims. In 2018, the commander of the Zawiya LCG was sanctioned by the UN for perpetrating violence against migrants and the GNA subsequently suspended him from his duties as the LCG commander. Credible sources reported, however, that he continued to work on LCG missions in Zawiya port in 2019 and the GNA did not report investigating the official further.

The government arrested, detained, or otherwise punished victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration and prostitution violations and alleged affiliation to armed groups. As of February 2020, an international organization reported DCIM managed 11 operational detention facilities where it arbitrarily and indefinitely detained male, female, and child migrants and refugees—many of whom were unidentified trafficking victims—in western Libya. During the reporting period, the MOI pledged to close three migrant detention centers and to release or repatriate the detainees; however, by the end of 2019, DCIM had emptied only one of these centers. DCIM-run detention facilities suffered from massive overcrowding, lack of basic infrastructure, dire sanitation problems, and food shortages. Detainees, including trafficking victims, had limited to no access to medical care, legal aid, and other forms of protective services. Detainees did not have access to immigration courts or other forms of due process. DCIM-employed guards continued to subject detainees to severe abuse, forced labor, unlawful killings, and rape and other forms of sexual violence. No DCIM detention centers employed female guards, except for the Tariq al-Sekka detention center; the lack of female personnel at the majority of detention centers and climate of impunity for sexual violence contributed to the increased vulnerability of female detainees to abuse and exploitation. Additionally, DCIM held migrants at detention facilities that were in close range of armed hostilities in Tripoli, but it did not protect detainees from the escalating violence. For example, in July 2019, an LNA-aligned airstrike hit a DCIM-run center in Tajoura municipality, killing at least 53 migrants, including six children; the DCIM-run center was adjacent to a weapons storage warehouse. There were reports that GNA armed forces used some detention centers as training grounds and to store weapons and equipment, further endangering detainees and trafficking victims. Moreover, in January 2020, the Deputy Director of the DCIM—who was affiliated with Tripoli-based armed militias—mobilized hundreds of DCIM guards at a site adjacent to a facility operated by an international organization sheltering refugees and asylum-seekers awaiting resettlement, some of whom were likely trafficking survivors. This action placed this population in grave danger and led the international organization to temporarily close the facility for fear that it would be targeted in the LNA’s ongoing offensive on Tripoli. In April 2019, the MOI reported it arrested at least seven children who were allegedly fighting for LNA-aligned units on the outskirts of Tripoli; the MOI did not report making efforts to screen the children for trafficking or refer them to civil society actors for protection services.

The government did not have any policy structures, institutional capacity, widespread political will, or resources to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as foreign migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers; women and girls in commercial sex; and children recruited and used by government-aligned militias or other armed groups. The government did not provide foreign trafficking victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they could face hardship or retribution. Libyan authorities continued to cooperate with international organizations to repatriate, resettle, or evacuate some migrants, which likely included unidentified trafficking victims. The government allowed an international organization to be present at some of the 10 official disembarkation points along the western coastline where migrants arrived after the LCG intercepted or rescued them at sea; however, the government’s procedures for disembarked migrants remained unclear and put migrants further at risk of exploitation. During the reporting period, the government continued to cooperate with international organizations, international NGOs, and diplomatic missions to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants, a population highly vulnerable to trafficking, in DCIM-run detention centers. The government continued to operate a limited number of social rehabilitation centers for women in commercial sex and victims of sex trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse; however, these centers reportedly operated as de facto prisons, and international observers continued to document incidents of abuse in these centers.

Libya is a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, but the government lacked the institutional capacity and resources to prevent human trafficking. Alleged government complicity further exacerbated the overall human trafficking problem in the country and the region. While some DCIM officials acknowledged the scope of the human trafficking problem in Libya, in November 2019, the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister stated in a media interview that there was “no slavery in Libya” in response to a question regarding allegations of forced labor in a migrant detention center. The GNA did not have a national coordinating body responsible for combating human trafficking. The government did not conduct any public anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, nor did it take actions to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or child sex tourism. The government did not report steps to prevent the recruitment and use of children by militia groups, armed groups affiliated to or aligned with the government, and other armed groups operating throughout the country. During the reporting period, the GNA continued to partner with some European nations to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling operations, substantially reducing the flow of irregular migrants crossing the Mediterranean over previous years. However, some European and international NGOs criticized this cooperation, citing severe security and human rights conditions and an increased risk of trafficking for migrants forced to remain in Libya. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. However, the MOI reported it conducted an unknown number of training sessions in 2019 for DCIM and LCG personnel on international human rights law, human smuggling, and human trafficking. During the reporting period, the MOI Criminal Investigation Department continued to partner with an international organization to train its officers on document forgery, including those used by traffickers and smugglers.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Libya. Instability, conflict, and lack of government oversight and capacity in Libya continued to allow for human trafficking crimes to persist and become highly profitable for traffickers. Trafficking victims—including men, women, and children—are highly vulnerable to extreme violence and other human rights violations in Libya by governmental and non-state armed groups, including: physical, sexual, and verbal assault; abduction for ransom; extortion; arbitrary killings; inhumane detention; and child soldiering. Credible reports since 2013 indicate numerous armed groups and militias, some of which are used as combat forces or security enforcement by the government, recruit and use children. In 2019, anecdotal reports received by international organizations and unverified press reporting suggested some GNA- and LNA-aligned units recruited and used children as soldiers and in support roles. GNA officials and LNA representatives have each claimed publicly that the other side recruits and uses child soldiers. In July 2019, an international organization received reports of the increased recruitment and use of children by unspecified actors in Libya over the previous year, yet reported this information could not be verified owing to monitoring restrictions. In 2018, an international organization documented incidents in which local armed groups forcibly recruited boys aged 13-15. Uncorroborated media reports in 2018 also claimed that ISIS trained and used children in suicide attacks, to fire weapons, and to make improvised explosive devices. Children associated with armed groups in Libya are also reportedly exposed to sexual violence. IDPs, including both Libyans and foreigners, are vulnerable to both labor and sex trafficking. There were an estimated 343,000 IDPs in Libya at the end of 2019, 97 percent of whom were displaced due to the deterioration of security conditions in the country.

Migrants in Libya are extremely vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking, including those seeking employment in Libya or transiting Libya en route to Europe. Migrants living in Libya are vulnerable to exploitation by state and non-state actors, including employers who refuse to pay laborers’ wages. As of the end of 2019, international organizations estimated there were 654,081 migrants and 46,395 refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya. Labor migrants in Libya typically come from sub-Saharan and Sahel states. The country continued to serve as a departure point for migrants, including unaccompanied minors, crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from North Africa; however, the numbers of sea departures from Libya to Europe continued to decrease throughout 2019 and over previous years. Elements of the LCG reportedly work with armed groups and other criminals, including traffickers, to exploit migrants for profit. There are financial incentives for smugglers and traffickers to prevent the disembarkation of migrants transiting the Mediterranean and to re-transit migrants back to Libya for detention and further exploitation. Throughout 2019, due to violence and localized clashes, traditional smuggling and trafficking routes became more clandestine, creating greater risks and dangers for migrants.

Various armed groups, criminal gangs and networks, tribal groups, smugglers, and traffickers, have cooperated and competed in the smuggling and trafficking of migrants to and through Libya, while carrying out serious human rights abuses and violations against migrants, including torture, sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, extortion, ransom, theft, and forced labor. International organizations report smugglers and traffickers trade migrants and refugees within illicit networks, while holding them in inhumane conditions. Highly organized trafficking networks subject migrants to forced labor and sex trafficking through fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, debt-based coercion, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. In some cases, migrants reportedly pay smuggling fees to reach Tripoli, but once they cross the Libyan border they are sometimes abandoned in southern cities or the desert where they are susceptible to severe forms of abuse and human trafficking.

Several credible sources continue to report that migrants held in detention centers controlled by both the DCIM and non-state armed groups and militias were subjected to severe abuse, rampant sexual violence, and forced labor. As of March 2020, international organizations estimated there were more than 1,400 migrants and refugees in DCIM-run detention centers, which was less than the approximately 5,000 detained migrants and refugees in early 2019. There were an unknown number of migrants and refugees detained in informal detention facilities across the country affiliated to various non-state armed groups, including the LNA. An unknown number of migrants were also held in criminal prisons affiliated with the MOJ, MOI, and MOD. Private employers and DCIM officials use detained migrants for forced labor in domestic work, garbage collection, construction, road paving, and agriculture. According to international observers, detention center operators also forced migrants to provide ancillary services to armed groups, such as offloading and transporting weapons, cooking food, cleaning, and clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO). Once the work is completed, employers and detention center officials return the migrants to detention. In some cases, detained migrants were forced to work in exchange for their release from prison. In November 2017, an international media outlet released a video depicting unidentified individuals selling African migrants reportedly for labor in an undisclosed location in Libya. Furthermore, an international organization reported in 2017 that many militias in Libya fill their ranks with migrants from Niger, Nigeria, and Chad to perform labor or to serve in other non-combat roles.

There is a reportedly high prevalence of sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence and exploitation of female migrants either along the migration routes to Libya or in DCIM-run and militia-run detention facilities in Libya; perpetrators of sexual violence against female migrants include various armed groups, smugglers, traffickers, and MOI officials. International NGOs also report that migrant men and boys are increasingly vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Prostitution rings reportedly subject sub-Saharan women and girls to sex trafficking in brothels, particularly in the towns of Ubari, Sebha, and Murzuq in southern Libya; Nigerian women and girls are at increased risk of sex trafficking in Libya. According to a European NGO, Nigerian gangs recruit Nigerian girls from rural regions of the country and facilitate the transportation of the girls through Libya for sex trafficking in Italy and other European countries.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future