Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, nonstate groups, foreign actors including mercenaries from various countries, and terrorist organizations. Conflict-related abuses committed by armed groups reportedly included killings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, and torture.
Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, son of former leader Muammar Qadhafi, remained subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant to answer allegations of crimes against humanity in an investigation authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1970. On December 12, the ICC called for international cooperation in arresting and transferring Saif al-Islam to the court. The indictment against Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, a commander in the LNA’s al-Saiga Brigade, had not been withdrawn by year’s end despite credible reports of his killing on March 24. On February 12, al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, a former head of the Internal Security Agency of Libya who was subject to an arrest warrant in 2017 for crimes against humanity and war crimes including torture, reportedly died in Cairo, Egypt. The ICC called upon Egyptian authorities to promptly investigate the reported death and to provide the relevant information to the ICC.
Killings: There were numerous reports that GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, foreign actors and mercenaries, and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.).
There were reports of communal violence between ethnic and tribal groups. In October the FFM reported that tensions between the Ahali and Tebu communities in the south, which culminated in violent clashes in 2019, continued. An indeterminate number of civilians were killed and others injured in clashes between tribal and ethnic groups in the south.
Abductions: GNU-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, and other armed groups were responsible for the disappearance of civilians, although few details were available (see section 1.b.). Kidnappings targeted activists, journalists, government officials, migrants, and refugees. Kidnappings for ransom, including of migrants and other foreign workers, remained a frequent occurrence in many cities.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Guards at both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners, although the law prohibits torture. The December midterm report of the UN Panel of Experts, a body established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) concerning Libya, identified multiple instances of torture and inhuman treatment committed by members of the Ministry of Interior’s Special Deterrence Force at the Mitiga detention facility in Tripoli. The panel also cited cases in detention facilities under the authority of or affiliated with the LNA.
Child Soldiers: In June a local monitoring and reporting mechanism for child soldiers verified that a GNU-affiliated militia in the west recruited a 15-year-old boy to fight on its behalf starting in 2019. Reports indicated the child left the militia and returned home between January and June. There were no reports of child recruitment and use by armed groups affiliated with the GNU, LNA, and other nonstate actors. Although government policy required verification recruits were age 18 or older, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. The GNU did not make credible efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.
There were reports that Sudanese and Chadian mercenary groups in the south also engaged in the recruitment or use of children.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNU, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists as reprisal for their reporting.
Freedom of Expression: Freedom of expression was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2017.” The House of Representatives, since its election in 2014, and the GNU, since taking its seat in Tripoli in March, did little to reduce restrictions on freedom of expression. Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Civil society organizations (CSOs) practiced self-censorship because armed groups previously threatened or killed activists. Skirmishes in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.
International and domestic human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats – including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances – by armed groups, both those aligned with and those opposed to the GNU.
Many armed groups aligned with the GNU or LNA maintained databases of persons being sought for their alleged opposition activities or due to their identity. Some journalists and human rights activists chose to depart the country rather than remain and endure harassment.
Armed groups reportedly used social media to monitor and target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted defamation.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seriously affecting the operations of journalists in Tripoli.
Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in several areas of the country.
Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.
On February 25, a local television journalist was arrested after posing a number of questions to the prime minister during a press conference in Tripoli. He was released on February 28 after intensive lobbying by domestic and international organizations.
On July 31, domestic human rights groups and independent media organizations condemned the detention of local journalist Ahmed al-Senussi by security forces guarding the headquarters of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) in Tripoli. He reportedly went to the CBL to call for peaceful protest against the policies of its governor. CBL security guards released him several hours after his detention.
On September 11, reports emerged that the LNA General Command had released photojournalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zwei from prison in Benghazi after his May 2020 sentencing in a Benghazi military court to 15 years for his affiliation with a satellite television channel deemed “hostile” to interests in the eastern region. Human rights activists stated he was tried in a closed hearing without access to his lawyer and sentenced under the country’s 2014 counterterrorism law, which provides for the arrest of civilians for perceived terrorist acts. He was one of reportedly dozens of journalists, activists, and other civilians who had been detained and tried in LNA military courts in recent years. Human rights defenders expressed concern that the LNA unfairly applied the counterterrorism law to silence dissent.
On November 22, an armed group reportedly kidnapped Siraj Abdel Hafeez al-Maqsabi, a journalist with a local newspaper in Benghazi, and took him to an unknown location.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to intimidation and the lack of security. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions. In June human rights organizations reported LNA-affiliated security forces removed local newspapers in Ajdabiya critical of the deteriorating security situation in the city and the disappearance and eventual reported imprisonment of activist Mansour Mohamed Atti al-Maghrabi. In August several local news networks and independent media organizations protested the GNU’s adoption of Governmental Decision No. 301, which they alleged threatened media freedom and pluralism in the country. The decision reportedly gave the government broad powers to supervise and restrict news coverage and media content.
Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalizes a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.
National Security: The penal code criminalizes speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNU did not enforce this provision.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.
The GNU generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access existed, although no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNU-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).
Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.
Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.
Many bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no significant government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. After a prolonged delay because of the conflict, the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum agreed on the date of December 24 for national elections. On December 22, the High National Elections Commission stated it could not proceed with elections because of several unresolved matters, including disputed candidacies.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission successfully administered the election of members to the House of Representatives, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. Observers mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities, with the largest national observation umbrella group citing minor technical problems and inconsistencies. Violence affected some polling centers. A total of 11 seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community.
The term of the House of Representatives expired; however, the legislative body was recognized as the nation’s legitimate parliament by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015, which created the former interim Government of National Accord.
Rival factions attempted to schedule elections in 2018 and 2019, but the efforts failed when the LNA launched its offensive on Tripoli in 2019.
During UNSMIL’s Libyan Political Dialogue Forum meeting in Geneva on February 1-5, Libyan delegates successfully selected the GNU as the country’s interim executive authority and set December 24 as the date for presidential and parliamentary elections. A lack of agreement on a presidential candidate list scuttled the planned elections.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers – in addition to security challenges – prevented their proportionate political participation.
The election law provides for representation of women in the House of Representatives; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 27 active female members in the House of Representatives. The disparity was due to resignations and deputies’ refusal to take their seats.
Women were underrepresented in public-health decision making related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The GNU’s two COVID-19 pandemic response committees – the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Response and an advisory Scientific Committee – lacked female members.
Ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, including the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg, expressed frustration with what they perceived as their deliberate marginalization from political institutions and processes.
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.