a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned armed groups, LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate actors, including foreign mercenary groups from Chad, Russia, and Sudan, and ISIS-Libya fighters committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, 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. In some cases foreign mercenaries may have operated with support from their home governments: For example, the Wagner Group reportedly provided command and control support in the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli, with multiple casualties resulting from sniper fire by Wagner personnel.
Reports indicated nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations committed targeted killings and bombings against both government officials and civilians.
In September the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported 16 extrajudicial killings in retaliation for the killing of two senior commanders in the pro-LNA Kaniyat nonstate armed group in Tarhouna.
ISIS-Libya claimed responsibility for various attacks on civilian and military-held areas during the year.
In some instances no party took responsibility for the attacks. For example, on August 10, a car-bomb explosion in Benghazi resulted in five civilian fatalities, including three UN staff members. There were no claims of responsibility for the attack.
In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated. There were many reports of civilian casualties as result of the continuing hostilities. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordnance killed more than a thousand persons, including civilians, during the year. Between January and October, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 218 civilians and the injury of 289 others. In July the World Health Organization estimated the number of deaths in broader Tripoli since April was 1,093, including 106 civilians, and 5,752 wounded, including 294 civilians.
On July 2-3, an airstrike on the Tajoura migrant detention center in Tripoli killed 53 persons and injured more than 80 others. Press reports attributed the attack to LNA-aligned forces.
On August 5, LNA-aligned forces conducted airstrikes on Murzuq, killing more than 40 civilians, according to the UN Panel of Experts for Libya.
GNA 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.). Due to its limited capacity, the GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.
On May 2, two Libyan journalists for television broadcaster Libya al-Ahrar, Mohamed al-Qurj and Mohamed al-Shibani, were abducted. They were released three weeks later.
On July 17, HoR member Siham Sergiwa was abducted from her home after criticizing the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli in a television interview. Her husband was shot in the leg, and her son was beaten. Her whereabouts remained unknown. The circumstances surrounding Sergiwa’s disappearance, including the presence of LNA-aligned groups establishing road closures near her home at the time of the kidnapping, led to speculation that the abduction was LNA orchestrated.
Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that an unknown number of migrants intercepted 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.
In February an unidentified armed group abducted 14 Tunisian nationals on their way to work at an oil refinery in Zawiya, releasing them three days later.
Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled many facilities, the GNA continued to rely primarily on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNA-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.
At Mitiga Prison in Tripoli, prisoners alleged that GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force (SDF) members conducted summary executions and acts of torture.
In August the GNA alleged there was evidence of torture and abuse of corpses of prisoners released to the GNA by the Tarhouna-based and LNA-aligned Kaniyat nonstate armed group.
In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, UNSMIL estimated that 4,900 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM) as of November. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities controlled by criminal and nonstate armed groups.
In September Italian authorities arrested three men in Sicily who allegedly tortured migrants at the DCIM-administered Zawiya detention center in 2018. Testimonies from the victims included allegations of arbitrary killing, systematic rape, forced labor, beatings with electric cables, and deprivation of food and water.
A March 2019 report by the U.S.-based Women’s Refugee Commission found that migrants and refugees, including men, women, and children, were subjected to extensive sexual violence in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities across the country.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded; conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. UN agencies and UNSMIL reported that malnutrition and communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some GNA prisons and detention centers. Thousands of detainees at Mitiga Prison, including women and minors, lived within range of ongoing hostilities at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport. Prison and detention facilities were in need of infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Some detainees were held in makeshift facilities.
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. There were often separate facilities for men and women. Very few GNA facilities employed female prison guards.
According to UNSMIL and press reports, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation conditions, 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. Of the migrants and refugees held in government detention centers, an estimated 10 percent 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.
Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a rival, eastern “Ministry of Justice” that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.
Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in eastern Libya. The GNA permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations and foreign embassies, but these movements were tightly controlled.
Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNA authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of September the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners had conducted 900 visits during the year to provide counseling, medical assistance, and register refugees and asylum seekers in government migrant detention facilities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
There were continued reports by UNSMIL of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.
Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.
The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. The government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. According to HRW and local human rights organizations, prison authorities, nonstate armed groups, and criminal networks held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.
Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” Additionally, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 60 percent of detainees in GNA Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention as of August. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention.
Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs have called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding in prisons. The GNA Office of the Prosecutor General established a committee in late 2018 to review cases of arbitrary detention and conduct judicial screening of detainees in Mitiga Prison; the Office of the Prosecutor General reported in February the committee had completed its work and that a final report would be submitted to the government.
Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process.
Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts during the year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors faced threats, intimidation, violence, and under-resourced courts. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas affected by continuing hostilities and in the country’s south.
The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.
According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.
Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.
The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but this was not implemented in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.
Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, criminal groups, and other nonstate actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes and monitoring communications without judicial authorization.
Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflicts
Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, nonstate groups, including mercenaries from Chad, Russia, and Sudan, and terrorist organizations. Human rights abuses committed by armed groups reportedly included indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, torture, appropriation of property, burning of houses and vehicles, and forced expulsions based on political belief or tribal affiliation.
The largest internal conflict during the year occurred near Tripoli, where LNA-aligned forces fought to take control of the city from GNA-aligned forces. The war in Tripoli significantly worsened humanitarian conditions for more than 400,000 individuals in the area.
Killings: There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, foreign mercenaries, and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.). Primary targets of killings included political opponents, judges, political activists, members of civil society, journalists, religious leaders, tribal leaders, and former Qadhafi-era officials and soldiers.
On June 26, GNA-aligned groups retook the city of Gharyan from LNA-aligned forces. There were reports that GNA forces killed several already-injured LNA soldiers at close range in Gharyan Hospital.
LNA-aligned groups under Khalifa Haftar continued attacks by ground and air forces against their opponents, including GNA-aligned forces and those the LNA labeled as terrorists.
In February LNA-affiliated groups regained control of Derna following intense fighting with local armed groups. More than 100 bodies were reportedly recovered in the area, including an indeterminate number of women and children.
Since April there have been extensive reports of indiscriminate shelling and rocket attacks in Tripoli, mostly by LNA-aligned forces.
On October 6, an airstrike by LNA-affiliated groups on an equestrian club in Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood injured several civilians, including children.
On November 18, an airstrike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli killed 10 persons and injured 35 others.
According to local media reports in July, the LNA promoted Major Mahmoud Werfalli, commander of the LNA’s Special Forces, to lieutenant colonel. In 2017 the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Werfalli’s arrest following repeated allegations that he committed extrajudicial executions. In December Werfalli was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act for being a foreign person who is responsible for, is complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuses. Since 2016 Warfalli has carried out or ordered the killings of 43 unarmed detainees in eight separate incidents, many of which were publicized on social media.
Although exact figures were impossible to obtain, terrorist organizations also carried out bombings and other attacks resulting in civilian casualties. On May 4, ISIS-Libya claimed responsibility for an attack at an LNA-affiliated training camp in Sebha that reportedly killed nine persons. On May 18, ISIS-Libya claimed responsibility for killing three security personnel and kidnapping four other individuals from an oil field entrance gate in Zillah.
There were reports of communal violence between ethnic and tribal groups. An indeterminate number of civilians were killed and others injured in clashes between the Tebu and Ahali communities in Murzuq between February and October, according to local media reports.
There were reports of killings and injuries by unexploded ordnance. Libyan authorities received many complaints about unexploded ordnance from communities within range of hostilities in Tripoli.
Abductions: GNA-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, former government officials, migrants, and the security forces. Kidnappings-for-ransom remained a frequent occurrence in many cities.
In May there were reports LNA-aligned groups kidnapped several civilians from their homes in Derna and held them in arbitrary detention. In May and October, there were reports LNA-aligned groups kidnapped High State Council members Mohammed Abu Ghamja and Mustafa al-Treki, respectively. Al-Treki was released in October, but Abu Ghamja’s whereabouts remained unknown.
There were various other unconfirmed reports that LNA-aligned groups abducted bloggers and activists in southern Tripoli.
In August former minister of oil and gas Abdelbari al-Arusi was kidnapped by an unknown armed group. He was released two weeks later.
There were frequent reports of migrants and other expatriate workers abducted for ransom.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Jailers at both government and extralegal detention centers reportedly tortured prisoners. The lack of full government control over detention facilities limited information available on conditions within these facilities (see section 1.c.).
Child Soldiers: There were reports of increased child recruitment by armed groups. Although government policy required proof recruits were at least age 18, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. There were multiple unconfirmed reports of underage enlistees in nonstate armed groups and of children engaged in forced labor–such as cooking and cleaning–for such groups. The GNA did not make credible efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Additional abuses stemming from conflict included restrictions on travel and deliberate attacks on health-care facilities.
Authorities at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport suspended flights several times throughout the year due to indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes by LNA-aligned groups, which killed several civilians at the airport and significantly restricted the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
As of November, UNSMIL reported there had been 60 registered attacks on health facilities and workers, including attacks on hospitals, field clinics, and ambulances. The attacks led to 11 confirmed health-care worker deaths and 33 injuries, although the actual number could be higher. An estimated 20 percent of health-care infrastructure in the country was inoperable due to damages from conflict, disrepair, or other factors.
For example, in late July airstrikes by LNA-affiliated groups targeted two field hospitals and two ambulances, killing four health-care workers and injuring eight others.