Skylar Watkins

Hindering Development

Human trafficking has implications that extend far beyond the individual victims. Trafficking undermines the rule of a law of a country and compromises its national and economic security. Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises and is one of the largest illicit industries in the world. Every year human trafficking and forced labor within the private economy generate over $150 billion in illegal profits.

Two-thirds of these profits are generated from commercial sexual exploitation and the remaining third is generated from other means of forced labor. The prominence of the illegal economy prevents open markets from thriving. Even more dangerously, the illegal market oftentimes funnels money into criminal and terrorist organizations, further promoting corruption and endangering the Libyan political system.

A Wider Regional and Continental Issue

Human trafficking is not only an issue in Libya and has become an increasingly prevalent issue within the African continent, particularly due to a lack of institutional capacity. At any given time, it is estimated that 3.7 million people in Africa are in forced labor and slavery. Almost a quarter of all trafficking globally occurs in the continent. The most common type of trafficking in Africa is forced labor, however there are over 400,000 victims of sexual exploitation in the continent and approximately 99% are women and girls and 21% are under the age of 18.

Despite global efforts, including funding and resources provided by the US, very few African countries have fully met the minimum standards set forth by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that the Department of State utilizes to rank countries for its Trafficking in Persons Report. In 2023, Seychelles was the only African country to achieve a Tier 1 placement, meaning that the country is meeting the minimum standards set forth by the TVPA. A majority of African countries are Tier 2 countries, meaning that the countries do not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but is making a significant effort in an attempt to meet these standards.

North Africa in particular is an attractive spot for irregular migration due to its close proximity to southern Europe. The heavy flow of migrants in Northern Africa further threatens the stabilization and development of the region, allowing criminal networks such as human trafficking to intensify and grow across the region. Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia all ranked as Tier 2 countries in the 2023 TIP Report.

Egypt was ranked as a Tier 2 Watchlist country, meaning that the country is ranked as a Tier 2 country but is at risk of falling to Tier 3. Algeria was ranked as a Tier 3 country, meaning that it does not meet the TVPA minimum standards, nor is it making any significant effort to do so. North Africa’s TIP rankings exemplify how, even when countries are attempting to meet these standards, they are failing to succeed and are unable to meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking effectively.

US and International Interventions and Efforts

As of August 2022, the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office has dedicated over $225 million to active anti-trafficking projects globally, many of which work within Libya. Examples include the $750,000 project to support the expansion of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) in select Sub-Saharan African countries and Libya. This project specifically looks at the Islamic State’s organized exploitation of migrants through human trafficking.

Despite US funding and interventions in the continent, trafficking persists, and nations continue to fail to enhance efforts to combat this crime. As of August 2023, the State Department’s TIP Office manages over $61 million in anti-trafficking projects in Africa alone. Although many of these projects have had positive impacts, overall, they have failed to foster long-term and effective international changes. This is certainly not to say that funding for anti-trafficking efforts is pointless; in fact, it is critical. However, the lack of change seen in Africa’s TIP Reports and the consistently high rates of trafficking on the continent point to inefficiencies in generating substantial change.

Internationally, Libya is a party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (2000), which acts as a supplement to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Although the country has lacked the institutional capacity to eliminate human trafficking, the United Nations has attempted to act within the country.

For example, the United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) was adopted in 2011 through resolution 2009. Since then, the mandate has been renewed through 31 October 2024. Although the primary purpose of the mandate is to support in the transition of power, the mandate also includes the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations.

Furthermore, in October 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2240, which authorized member states to seize and inspect vessels in Libya that are suspected of being used for either human trafficking or migrant smuggling. The mandate has been renewed annually and was most recently renewed for another year on September 29th, 2023. The U.N. Security Council specifically calls upon member states with the proper jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for human trafficking and migrant smuggling and cites member states’ obligations under international law.

Other global efforts include a 2019 EU and UNODC join-program to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco). The program is worth over $15.8 million and aims to enhance border patrols’ capacity to detect and intercept traffickers; strengthen the capacity of first responders to identify and protect victims; enhance law enforcement’s skills and knowledge regarding investigative techniques; and strengthen skills in adjudicating human trafficking and smuggling cases.


Human trafficking in Libya is only one of many humanitarian crises being perpetuated by Libya’s status as a failed state. Despite the efforts of the international community, the human trafficking situation in Libya seems to be heading in the wrong direction. US and international resources are being funneled into addressing the issue, but not in an effective manner that will create long-term change. In order to address human trafficking in Libya, the instability in the country must be addressed. Without proper internal institutions to protect victims, prevent trafficking, and prosecute traffickers, long-lasting change is not possible, and the full extent of the issue remains unknown.


Skylar Watkins was a research intern with the Africa Program in Fall 2024. She is a senior at Pennsylvania State University graduating with her B.A. and M.I.A. in International Affairs with concentrations in International Security and Humanitarian Development.


Foreign Policy Research Institute

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