Libya’s interim Government of National Unity was selected by the 75-member UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in November 2020 and subsequently endorsed by the Libyan House of Representatives. Libya was emerging from a state of civil conflict. The government controlled limited territory. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in the eastern part of the country, especially those aligned with the nonstate actor known as the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, challenged its authority.
The government had limited control over security forces, which consisted of a mix of semiregular units, tribal armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force under the Ministry of Interior oversaw internal security, supported by the armed forces under the Ministry of Defense. Security-related police work generally fell to informal armed groups, which received government salaries but lacked formal training, supervision, or consistent accountability. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed numerous abuses.
The Government of National Unity and nonstate actors largely upheld the 2020 cease-fire agreement, although both sides continued receiving support from foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a limited presence in the southwestern desert. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and House of Representatives each convened to establish a framework for national elections as called for by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum roadmap. Elections did not take place as scheduled on December 24.
Significant human rights problems included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by various armed groups; forced disappearances by various armed groups; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians and the recruitment or use of children in conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists and the existence of libel and slander laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers; serious government corruption; lack of accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; threats of violence targeting ethnic minorities and foreigners; existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including limits on collective bargaining and the right to strike; and forced labor.
Divisions between western and eastern institutions, a security vacuum in the south, the presence of criminal groups throughout the country, and the government’s weakness severely inhibited investigation and prosecution of abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption within its area of reach; however, its limited resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish perpetrators.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that armed groups aligned with the Government of National Unity (GNU), as well as with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In October the Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FMM) on Libya reported that state agents or affiliates routinely used extrajudicial killings as a means of punishment or silencing “individuals suspected of involvement in serious human rights violations.” The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe resource or political constraints.
Alliances, sometimes temporary, among government officials, nonstate actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.
On January 6, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the death of a 19-year-old Somali refugee in Tripoli. Prior to the man’s death, he had been held in a human smuggling camp in Bani Walid and subjected to repeated torture and abuse by his captors. On January 14, international and domestic human rights organizations documented the death of a 21-year-old Egyptian migrant in al-Qa’arah, east of Tobruk. His body bore signs of torture, and his hands and legs were burned. Witnesses reported he was detained in a prison for migrant smugglers and died on January 11.
On January 20, local authorities in Benghazi found two bodies with gunshot wounds to the head in the city’s downtown area. Their hands were tied behind their backs, and they bore signs of torture. It was not clear who was responsible for the killings.
On April 1, domestic and international human rights organizations reported a 37-year-old civilian was shot and killed as he passed by a checkpoint manned by the Ministry of Defense’s 444th Brigade near his home in Tripoli. That same month, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported guards at the Tripoli Gathering and Return Center, unofficially known as the al-Mabani migrant detention center, fired shots indiscriminately into two holding cells, killing one migrant and injuring two others.
On June 17, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported that guards at the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM)-operated Abu Rashada detention center shot and killed four migrants and injured a number of others. On June 22, MSF suspended its operations at al-Mabani and Abu Salim detention centers in Tripoli. MSF cited two incidents on June 3 and 13 at Abu Salim where guards indiscriminately opened fire on detainees, killing at least seven individuals and injuring several others, and repeated cases of human rights abuses and inhuman conditions at both facilities as motivating factors for the decision.
On June 27, the body of a civilian bearing signs of torture was delivered to a local hospital in Tripoli. The GNU-aligned al-Dhaman Brigade had reportedly kidnapped the individual on June 1 in the Qasr al-Qarabouli area of Tripoli. In November at least four mass graves were discovered in Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, from April 2019 until June 2020. According to data from Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 200 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late November. In March, GASIMP had revealed it had a list of 3,650 missing persons throughout the country, including 350 individuals in Tarhouna. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.
In August the Libyan Red Crescent discovered the bodies of six migrants in an area known for human smuggling activity in Wadi Zamzam, in the central region of the country. According to an October 12 report from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Libya Platform (LP), between January and June no fewer than 25 extrajudicial killings took place across the country. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated.
In December the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, a paramilitary force linked to Russia and supporting the LNA, as well as eight individuals and three entities connected to it, after the FFM’s October report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Wagner personnel may have committed the war crime of murder.” The EU stated that Wagner had “recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law.”
GNU- and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNU made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.
The October, CIHRS-LP reported 33 enforced disappearances during the first six months of the year, attributing four of them to the GNU and its affiliates, 13 to the LNA, and two to ISIS. Of the other disappearances, 14 could not be attributed to any specific group.
In August, UNSMIL expressed concern regarding the number of abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that between January and early December, 807 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing at sea.
July 17 marked the two-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.
Domestic and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists were forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern Libyan security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as disloyal to the GNU or LNA. On March 27, human rights activist Jamal Mohammed Adas disappeared in Tripoli. His whereabouts remained unknown. On May 31, LNA-aligned security services allegedly kidnapped the head of the Libyan Red Crescent in Ajdabiya, activist Mansour Mohamed Atti al-Maghrabi, in the eastern region of the country. Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations called for his release. On August 5, a commander of the LNA’s 302 Brigade reportedly confirmed that al-Maghrabi was being held in an unspecified LNA prison. On August 2, unidentified armed men abducted Ridha al-Fraitis, chief of staff for the first deputy prime minister, and a colleague. On August 10, UNSMIL released a statement condemning the abduction. On August 17, Fraitis and his colleague were reportedly released.
Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to years of conflict, a weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, authorities made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Officials engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there were between 10,000 and 20,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNU relied on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNU-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.
In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, many refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the DCIM. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps. The criminal and nonstate armed groups controlling these facilities routinely tortured and abused detainees, subjecting them to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water, according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups.
On January 14, domestic human rights organizations and media reported security forces in the eastern city of al-Bardi rescued 14 Egyptian migrants from a prison that human traffickers controlled. The migrants said their captors had tortured them. On February 21, local authorities in al-Kufra raided a secret prison operated by human traffickers and freed at least 156 Somali, Eritrean, and Sudanese migrants and refugees. Some of the rescued migrants and refugees reportedly suffered abuse and torture, were malnourished, and required medical attention.
In June, UNSMIL documented the plight of five Somali teenage girls detained at the DCIM-operated Shara al-Zawiya migrant detention center, where guards repeatedly attacked and sexually assaulted them. At least two of the girls reportedly attempted suicide as a result of the repeated abuse. On July 15, authorities released the girls into UNHCR’s care. In August, UNSMIL reported guards at the DCIM-operated Abu Issa detention center in Zawiyah sexually abused and exploited boys and men.
UNSMIL also verified reports of rape and sexual violence against female prisoners in the eastern region, including the internal security section of the Kuwayfiyah prison in Benghazi.
The FFM noted in its October report to the UN Human Rights Council that migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and prisoners were particularly at risk of sexual violence. The FFM stated it found credible indications that government actors and militias members also used sexual violence as a subjugation or humiliation tool to silence critics and those appearing to challenge social norms or acceptable gender roles. For example, the FFM stated it received several reports that rights activists were abducted and subjected to sexual violence to deter their participation in public life. The FFM also reported cases of beatings and rape of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption within its area of reach; however, its limited resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish perpetrators.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNU control (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded, needed infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities that did not receive a food budget.
As of August, UNSMIL estimated there were 12,300 persons detained in 27 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight. As of September the IOM estimated there were 4,564 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.
In addition to the Tripoli-based Judicial Police Authority, which the GNU tasked to run the prison system, armed groups affiliated with the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as with the LNA and other rival eastern security forces, operated prisons and detention facilities. The ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly during the year. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued.
Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members for medicine. Inmates needing medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lacked ambulances.
On May 23, the Ministry of Justice announced the launch of a coronavirus vaccination campaign within prisons. Inmates with chronic diseases were given first priority, and the government announced the campaign would expand to include the rest of the prison population.
There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.
UNSMIL estimated 400 women were detained in prisons as of September. Female prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.
In May the LNA reportedly released more than 200 detainees from the Green Mountains Branch’s Gernada Military Prison in the eastern city of al-Bayda. There were an estimated 1,207 prisoners from Derna held in Gernada Prison due to their opposition to the LNA. Also in May the Ministry of Justice released 78 prisoners who were arrested during the civil conflict and detained in al-Jadeda Prison in Tripoli.
According to international and national migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of September, UNHCR and the IOM estimated 25 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.
As of August the government reported to UN agencies that it had released nearly 3,500 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of the virus. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international human rights organizations welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons held in prisons and detention facilities were in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNU to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.
Administration: There was no credible information available regarding whether authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment or allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitor or religious observance. There was no information available on prisoners’ access to religious observance.
Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in the east. The GNU permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, but controlled these movements tightly. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNU authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of September, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 141 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum seekers.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption but, as in 2020, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to the lack of transparency in the GNU’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that government officials sometimes misused the letter of credit system to gain access to government funds.
Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Based on Libyan Audit Bureau reports, officials frequently engaged with impunity in corrupt practices such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, including instances of alleged money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. On November 4, the attorney general issued an arrest warrant for the former mayor of Brega on embezzlement charges. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among members of police and security forces.
Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly regarding management of revenues from oil and gas exports and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.
The Audit Bureau, the highest financial regulatory authority in the country, made efforts to improve transparency by publishing annual reports on government revenues and expenditures, national projects, and administrative corruption; the bureau struggled to release its reports on time, however. The bureau also investigated mismanagement at the General Electricity Company of Libya that contributed to lower production and led to acute power cuts.
Leadership disputes at the Administrative Control Authority, the sovereign body charged with some government oversight authorities, weakened the institution’s readiness and capacity to tackle corruption.
The UN-facilitated an independent, international audit of the two branches of the CBL concluded in August after a lengthy delay. The final recommendations of the audit encouraged the CBL to unify its organizational structure and strengthen its financial accountability and transparency. The CBL split between parallel western and eastern branches in 2014.
The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations, including on corruption and human rights problems.