Lack of institutional capacity, as well as lack of Libyan law enforcement, customs, and military personnel, especially along the country’s 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, 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 2021, 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. 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, limited policing capacity hindered the government’s ability to pursue these trafficking cases. During the reporting period, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of two suspects for trafficking and migrant smuggling and related crimes including the torturing, extortion, and killing of migrants; in both cases, the suspects remained in pre-trial detention at the end of the reporting period. 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 offices, 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 offices 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; the government has never reported prosecuting or convicting anyone for forced labor or sex trafficking crimes. As in previous years, international organizations and foreign governments facilitated anti- trafficking training for some legislators and government officials during the reporting period.
International observers continued to report systemic and prevalent complicity of government officials in human trafficking, including Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) officials, immigration officers, security officials, Ministry of Defense (MOD) officials, members of armed groups formally integrated into state institutions, and 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 unlawful 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. An NGO reported that refugees and migrants as young as 14 years old, detained in DCIM detention centers in 2021, were forced to carry out construction or cleaning work in sites such as military encampments and farms. There were 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. Reports also suggested staff in some DCIM migrant detention centers in western Libya coerced detainees to clean and load weapons during active hostilities. In addition, DCIM guards and staff systematically subjected migrants detained in DCIM detention centers to sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation; guards and staff coerced women, girls, men, and boys to perform sexual favors in exchange for essentials such as food, clean water, and at times, their freedom. An NGO reported DCIM guards and military officials also “sold” at least one female detainee to outside individuals who then exploited the woman in sex trafficking. In April 2021, authorities released from prison the UN-sanctioned commander of the Zawiya Libyan Coast Guard (LCG), arrested in October 2020 for trafficking crimes—including selling female migrant detainees into sexual slavery—citing lack of evidence; media reported the government promoted the commander while he was in detention.
The government arrested, detained, deported, or otherwise punished victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration and prostitution violations and alleged affiliation to armed groups. During the reporting period, the government, at times working with local militias, deported Sub-Saharan African migrants—a population highly vulnerable to trafficking—without screening for trafficking indicators. Reports indicate authorities sometimes expelled migrants outside of official deportation procedures, including at times leaving migrants in the desert at the Niger border. In January 2022, the UN estimated more than 12,000 migrants and refugees—many of whom were unidentified trafficking victims—were held officially in 27 prisons and detention centers across Libya where armed groups and government officials subjected them to a wide range of abuses including sex trafficking and forced labor; the UN estimates thousands more are held illegally in facilities controlled by armed groups or in secret facilities. Despite previous announcements the government would close detention centers rife with abuse, international organizations and NGOs reported the government opened new detention centers with repeated patterns of abuse or re-opened centers that had been closed because of past human rights violations; DCIM also legitimized and integrated informal sites previously run by affiliated militias without holding any individuals accountable for abuses committed while operating detention 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 access to medical care, legal aid, and other forms of protective services. During the reporting period, DCIM allowed international organizations and NGOs to conduct limited protection monitoring and medical visits to DCIM detention centers; however, authorities frequently denied humanitarian actors access to DCIM centers or otherwise significantly constrained their ability to provide regular protection services. Detainees did not have access to immigration courts or other forms of due process. 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 environment of impunity for sexual violence contributed to the increased vulnerability of female detainees to abuse and exploitation. In October 2021, security forces conducted mass raids to round up undocumented and documented migrants and asylum- seekers—including trafficking victims—in Tripoli, using excessive and lethal force and causing casualties resulting in the arrest and detention in DCIM centers of more than 5,000 individuals; international organizations reported these raids pushed already vulnerable individuals to unwittingly seek aid from traffickers to avoid arrest and detention.
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 migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers; women in commercial sex; and children recruited and used by armed groups. The government did not report identifying any victims nor providing 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; however, the government suspended international organization-operated voluntary return flights several times throughout the reporting period. The government allowed international organizations to be present at some of the 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. In addition, an NGO reported the quick and chaotic nature of disembarkation hampered the ability of international organizations to assess specific needs and vulnerabilities, monitor violations, or record claims for protection before refugees and migrants were funneled into detention; the NGO also reported refugees and migrants were unable to confidentially raise concerns, report abuse, or seek protection. 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. The GNU 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 or aligned with the government, or other armed groups operating throughout the country. During the reporting period, the GNU continued to partner with some European countries to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling operations, reducing irregular migration flows across 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.