Special Case (Libya)

Libya is a Special Case for the fourth 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 driven by militias, civil unrest, and increased lawlessness continued to plague Libya throughout the reporting period. 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 groups also committed human rights abuses, including unlawful killings. During the reporting year, 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 government corruption and militias’ influence over government ministries contributed to the GNA’s inability to effectively address trafficking.


Lack of institutional capacity, as well as lack of Libyan law enforcement, customs, and military personnel, especially along its borders, hindered authorities’ efforts to address 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-$361), 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 2018. The Ministry of Interior (MOI), which was nominally responsible for anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, was unable to carry out any anti-trafficking operations during the reporting period.

Libyan police forces were not adequately staffed or funded. In late 2018, the MOI formed a Human Rights Office, which was granted arrest authority and the responsibility to investigate human rights abuses, including human trafficking crimes, perpetrated by police officers.

To improve law enforcement capacity, the GNA—in partnership with international organizations—provided anti-trafficking training to several hundred police officers in Tripoli in December 2018.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) did not report statistics on prosecutions or convictions of trafficking offenders, including government officials who were allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes or government-aligned militias and other armed groups that recruited and used child soldiers.

In January 2019, the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants for 35 individuals allegedly involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes.

The Attorney General’s Office reportedly continued to investigate 205 people, for whom it issued arrest warrants in the previous reporting period, on allegations of human trafficking and other crimes related to a widely publicized 2017 case. However, it did not report additional information about this case.

International observers reported rampant complicity of government officials involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling operations, including Libyan Coast Guard 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 Irregular Migration (DCIM).

Several credible sources continued to report that DCIM prison officials and detention camp guards forced detained migrants and refugees to work in DCIM-run detention centers and on farms and construction sites.

According to an international organization, the Special Deterrence Force, which nominally operated under the MOI, was involved in the trafficking of detained migrants and benefited from extortion payments sent by the migrants’ family members for the migrants’ release.

Additionally, during the reporting period, the MOD continued to operate an anti-illegal migration unit with strong affiliation to one of the two armed groups involved in migrant smuggling and human trafficking in northwestern Libya; this allegiance allowed the armed group to continually shift its activities from committing smuggling and trafficking crimes, to policing migrants for the government.

In June 2018, the UN and the United States sanctioned a top regional leader of the Libyan Coast Guard’s Unit in the city of Zawiya and the leader of the Shuhada al-Wadi militia, who ran the GNA-controlled Nasr migrant detention center, for alleged involvement in human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

The GNA removed the Coast Guard official from his position, but it did not initiate further investigation or prosecute either official for these allegations.

The GNA was supportive of these sanctions and issued public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

The government did not have any policy structures, institutional capacity, or resources to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as foreign migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, women and girls in prostitution, child victims of sexual abuse, and children recruited and used by armed groups.

The government also did not provide permanent or temporary residency status to trafficking victims.

Female victims of trafficking and other crimes faced sexual harassment and assault and degrading treatment by predominantly male law enforcement and judicial officials in Libya.

The government continued to operate rehabilitation centers for women in prostitution and victims of sex trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse; however, these centers reportedly operated as de facto prisons, and international observers documented incidents of abuse in these centers.

The government regularly arrested, detained, and otherwise punished victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration and prostitution violations.

DCIM operated more than 20 official detention centers across the country where it arbitrarily and indefinitely detained approximately 5,000 male, female, and child migrants throughout the reporting period.

The number of migrants in the detention centers decreased substantially from 20,000 migrant detainees reported at the end of 2017 due to a concerted effort by international organizations and donor states to repatriate the migrants throughout 2018.

Nevertheless, these detention facilities suffered from massive overcrowding, lack of basic infrastructure, dire sanitation problems, and food shortages.

Detained migrants—including trafficking victims—had no access to medical care, legal aid, and other forms of protective services. DCIM guards subjected 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, where in January 2018 it hired an unknown number of female personnel to staff a section of the center reserved for women and child migrants.

An international organization reported the climate of impunity for sexual violence, and lack of safeguards in these centers created an environment where women and girls in detention were highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Continues in part 2


Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

US Department of State


Related Articles