Freedom in the World 2021 - Libya

/ 100
Political Rights 1 / 40
Civil Liberties 8 / 60
9 / 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Libya has been racked by internal divisions and intermittent civil conflict since a popular armed uprising in 2011 deposed longtime dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. International efforts to bring rival administrations together in a unity government have repeatedly failed, and interference from regional powers has exacerbated the fighting. A proliferation of weapons and autonomous militias, flourishing criminal networks, and the presence of extremist groups have all contributed to the country’s lack of physical security. The ongoing violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and human rights conditions have steadily deteriorated.

Key Developments in 2020

  • Fighting between the rival blocs based in the east and west of the country intensified in the first months of the year, after Turkey intervened in January to support the government in Tripoli. The eastern military alliance led by Khalifa Haftar, which had launched an offensive targeting the capital in April 2019, pulled back in June, leading to negotiations and a UN-brokered cease-fire in October. A political dialogue process intended to establish an interim government and set a timeline for national elections was underway at year’s end.
  • The government in Tripoli and local authorities imposed various travel restrictions over the course of the year in an attempt to curb COVID-19 transmission, but confirmed cases surged in the late summer and fall, and roughly 100,000 cases and 1,500 deaths had been reported by late December.
  • Citizen protests erupted episodically across the country in response to electricity blackouts, water shortages, high fuel prices, and frustration with government mismanagement and corruption. Protesters in both the eastern and western regions were met with excessive force, including live gunfire, as well as detentions and abuse in custody.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4

Libya remained divided between rival administrations in 2020. The Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, was based in Tripoli and had military allies that controlled much of western Libya. It was formed as part of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), an internationally brokered pact meant to end the political gridlock and armed conflict that had started in 2014 between factions loyal to the Tubruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), elected that year, and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), which was elected in 2012 and rejected the outcome of the 2014 elections. The LPA text granted a one-year mandate to the GNA upon its approval by the HoR, with a one-time extension if necessary. However, the HoR never granted its approval. Instead, an interim government affiliated with the HoR persisted in the east, under the protection of Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), renamed the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) during 2019.

The United Nations sought to resolve the rift by convening inclusive talks in April 2019, but the effort was derailed when Haftar’s forces launched a campaign to seize the capital and the rest of western Libya. The LAAF and its foreign allies were forced to retreat from western Libya in June 2020, and an informal truce led to a formal cease-fire in October. A UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) was then tasked with drafting plans for an interim government and a timeline for national elections. As the forum’s discussions continued at year’s end, al-Serraj remained in place as prime minister in Tripoli, and Abdullah al-Thani held the premiership in Tubruk, though both had offered to resign and were expected to hand power to the planned interim government.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4

Under the 2015 LPA, the unicameral, 200-seat HoR was to remain in place as the interim legislature. The agreement also created the High Council of State (HCS), a secondary consultative body composed of some members of the rival GNC. However, the HoR never formally approved the LPA’s provisions or recognized the GNA.

Members of the HoR were elected in 2014 in polls that were marked by violence and drew the participation of only about 15 percent of the electorate. Its mandate formally expired in 2015; while it unilaterally extended its tenure, it has rarely achieved a quorum in practice. Following the launch of Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli in 2019, the HoR became further divided, with members opposed to the campaign meeting in Tripoli and other members continuing to meet in Tubruk. There were attempts to reunify the body in the context of the LPDF process in late 2020, but the dispute remained unresolved.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0 / 4

An August 2011 constitutional declaration, issued by an unelected National Transitional Council, serves as the governing document for the ongoing transitional period between the revolution against al-Qadhafi and the adoption of a permanent constitution. Despite some legal developments, Libya lacks a functioning electoral framework in practice.

An electoral law was published in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, and members of the High National Election Commission (HNEC) were appointed. A Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) that was elected in 2014 voted to approve a draft constitution in 2017. In the fall of 2018, the HoR approved a law containing a framework for a constitutional referendum, along with several accompanying amendments to the 2011 constitutional declaration. It then submitted the former, the Referendum Law, to the HNEC, but there was speculation that the new law and amendments would face legal challenges. There was no substantive progress on the constitution in 2019 or 2020. Participants in the UN-led LPDF agreed in November that presidential and parliamentary elections should be held in December 2021.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1 / 4

A range of political parties organized to participate in the 2012 GNC elections, but all candidates were required to run as independents in the 2014 HoR elections. Civilian politics have since been overshadowed by the activities of armed groups, which wield significant power and influence on the ground. While various political factions and coalitions exist, the chaotic legal and security environment does not allow for normal political competition.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0 / 4

Libya remained divided between rival political and military factions throughout 2020. The LAAF’s withdrawal from western Libya in June cleared the way for the October cease-fire and the resumption of talks on future elections, but political influence was still heavily dependent on military strength.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0 / 4

Ordinary citizens have no role in Libya’s political affairs, which are currently dominated by armed factions, foreign governments, oil interests, smuggling syndicates, and other extrapolitical forces. Citizens and civilian political figures are subject to violence and intimidation by the various armed groups.

Foreign powers backed opposing sides in the 2019–20 conflict, and in some cases their involvement grew as the fighting intensified. Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France, and others have lent support to the LAAF, while Turkey and Qatar have been the most prominent supporters of the GNA. Turkey’s direct intervention in the fighting beginning in January 2020 helped to push the LAAF and its allies back to the central coastal city of Sirte and set the stage for the cease-fire and political dialogue. The cease-fire agreement called for all foreign fighters to depart Libya by the end of January 2021, though it was unclear whether this provision would be honored.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0 / 4

The political impasse and armed conflict prevented all segments of the population from exercising their basic political rights in 2020. Communities that lacked an affiliation with a powerful militia were especially marginalized.

The CDA featured two reserved seats each for three non-Arab ethnic minority groups: Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg. The Amazigh, however, largely boycotted the 2014 CDA elections and had no representatives in the body, and the two Tebu members rejected the draft constitution it adopted in 2017. The draft was approved by the CDA despite rules requiring support from at least one member from each of the three minority groups.

Representation for ethnic minority groups remained lacking in the 2020 LPDF process. Amazigh and Tuareg organizations denounced the UN-led dialogue for excluding their communities.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0 / 4

Neither the GNA nor Haftar’s camp had electoral legitimacy or full control over the national territory in 2020, and both remained dependent on fractious militia groups and foreign powers for their security. To the extent that civilian government institutions continued to function, they were bifurcated. For example, de facto authorities in the eastern part of the country have established a parallel central bank and state oil company.

In January 2020, Haftar imposed a blockade on the country’s oil production facilities, denying revenue to the GNA and disrupting electricity and other basic services. After Russian-mediated talks on the matter, Haftar lifted the blockade, and oil production and sales resumed in October.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4

Corruption is pervasive among government officials, and opportunities for graft and criminal activity abound in the absence of functioning fiscal, judicial, and other institutions. Public frustration with corruption contributed to public protests during 2020.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

There are no effective laws guaranteeing public access to government information, and none of the competing authorities engage in transparent budget-making and contracting practices.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4

There is a diverse array of Libyan media outlets based inside and outside the country. However, most are highly partisan, producing content that favors one of the country’s political and military factions, and in many cases promoting propaganda, hate speech, or disinformation in coordination with foreign backers. The civil conflict and related violence by criminal and extremist groups have made objective reporting dangerous, and journalists are subject to intimidation, arbitrary detention, and physical abuse by both sides in the conflict. Among other incidents during 2020, in May an LAAF-controlled military court in Benghazi sentenced freelance journalist Abuzreiba al-Zway to 15 years in prison for working with a Turkey-based television station. Despite the risks, some independent journalists and outlets have made efforts to engage in fact-based reporting, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 1 / 4

Religious freedom is often violated in practice. Nearly all Libyans are Sunni Muslims, but Christian and other minority communities have been attacked by armed groups, including local affiliates of the Islamic State (IS) militant group. In eastern Libya, hard-line Salafi Muslims aligned with Haftar’s forces control Benghazi’s mosques and religious programming. Salafi militants, who reject the veneration of saints, have destroyed or vandalized Sufi Muslim shrines with impunity.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1 / 4

There are no effective laws guaranteeing academic freedom. The armed conflict has damaged many university facilities and altered classroom dynamics; for example, professors can be subject to intimidation by students who are aligned with militias.

D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1 / 4

Although the freedom of private discussion and personal expression improved dramatically after 2011, the ongoing hostilities have taken their toll, with many Libyans increasingly withdrawing from public life or avoiding criticism of powerful figures. Numerous examples of kidnappings and killings of activists, politicians, and journalists have added to the general deterrent effect. Conditions for personal expression are considerably worse in the LAAF-controlled east than in the west, where residents have somewhat more freedom to criticize the GNA, though violent reprisals for critical speech have been reported in both areas.

Among other cases during 2020, a rapper was allegedly kidnapped in Tripoli in July after he released a song that criticized armed groups. In November, masked assailants in Benghazi murdered Hanan al-Barassi, a lawyer and activist who had criticized corruption within the LAAF on social media.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

A 2012 law on freedom of assembly is generally compatible with international human rights principles, but in practice the armed conflict and related disorder seriously deter peaceful assemblies in many areas.

In 2020, waves of protests erupted in response to electricity cuts, water shortages, high fuel prices, a surge in COVID-19 cases, and frustration with widespread corruption. Demonstrations were reported in multiple cities in western Libya beginning in August and in eastern regions beginning in September. These mostly peaceful protests were met with excessive force by armed groups, which used live ammunition to disperse assemblies and detained and tortured some participants. At least two civilians were reportedly killed.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4

The number of active nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has declined in recent years due to armed conflict and the departure of international donors. Militias with varying political, tribal, and geographic affiliations have attacked civil society activists with impunity. Many NGO workers have fled abroad or ceased their activism in the wake of grave threats to themselves or their families.

Despite these obstacles, Libyan humanitarian groups worked with municipal leaders to raise awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide masks and testing kits.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 0 / 4

Some trade unions, previously outlawed, formed after 2011. However, normal collective-bargaining activity has been impossible in the absence of basic security and a functioning legal system.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0 / 4

The role of the judiciary remains unclear without a permanent constitution, and judges, lawyers, and prosecutors face frequent threats and attacks. The national judicial system has essentially collapsed, with courts unable to function in much of the country. In some cases, informal dispute-resolution mechanisms have filled the void, and a military court system operates in affiliation with the LAAF in eastern Libya.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

Since the 2011 revolution, the right of citizens to a fair trial and due process has been challenged by the continued interference of armed groups and an inability to access lawyers and court documents. Militias and semiofficial security forces regularly engage in arbitrary arrests, detentions, and intimidation with impunity. Thousands of individuals remain in custody without any formal trial or sentencing. The LAAF’s military courts routinely flout basic standards of due process and are used to suppress dissent.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4

Libya’s warring militias and their foreign partners operate with little regard for the physical security of civilians. Various armed groups have carried out indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, torture of detainees, summary executions, rape, and the destruction of property. Militias also engage in criminal activity, including extortion and other forms of predation on the civilian population.

The fighting associated with the LAAF’s campaign against Tripoli between April 2019 and June 2020 killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 200,000. The offensive featured urban warfare and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, such as hospitals and airports, most of which were allegedly committed by the LAAF. Following the withdrawal of Haftar’s forces in June, the GNA reported finding evidence of atrocities in areas it recaptured, including hundreds of bodies in mass graves and other locations. Separately, reports of growing insecurity in eastern cities like Benghazi have included unexplained bombings, murders, and kidnappings.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0 / 4

Libyans from certain tribes and communities—often those perceived as pro-Qadhafi, including natives of the town of Tawergha—have faced discrimination, violence, and displacement. The Tebu and Tuareg minorities in the south also face discrimination. Foreign migrant workers, asylum seekers, and refugees have been subject to severe mistreatment, including detention in squalid facilities by both state authorities and other armed groups. In at least two incidents during 2020, groups of migrants were reportedly killed by those detaining them.

Women are not treated equally under the law and face practical restrictions on their ability to participate in the workforce. Widows and displaced women in particular are vulnerable to economic deprivation and other abuses.

Under Libya’s penal code, sexual activity between members of the same sex is punishable by up to five years in prison. LGBT+ people face severe discrimination and harassment, and have been targeted by militant groups.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 0 / 4

The 2011 constitutional declaration guarantees freedom of movement, but militia checkpoints restrict travel within Libya, while combat and poor security conditions more generally affect movement as well as access to education and employment.

Airports in Benghazi, Tripoli, Sabha, and Misrata have been attacked and damaged, severely limiting access to air travel. During the LAAF’s 2019–20 offensive on the capital, the city’s Mitiga airport was attacked. Beginning in March 2020, the GNA and local authorities imposed travel restrictions and a series of curfews to contain the spread of COVID-19. All ports and airports were closed for some periods, and special chartered planes were reserved for humanitarian assistance, citizen repatriation, and travel by political elites. In August, curfews that the GNA imposed on public health grounds coincided with anticorruption protests, leading to accusations that the restrictions were politically motivated.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

While Libyans formally have the right to own property and can start businesses, legal protections are not upheld in practice. Businesses and homes have been damaged amid fighting or other unrest, or confiscated by militias, particularly in Libya’s eastern regions. Ongoing insecurity has severely disrupted ordinary commerce, allowing armed groups to dominate smuggling networks and informal markets.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Laws and social customs based on Sharia (Islamic law) disadvantage women in personal status matters including marriage and divorce. Libyan women with foreign husbands do not enjoy full citizenship rights and cannot transfer Libyan citizenship to their children. There are no laws that specifically address or criminalize domestic violence, and most such violence goes unreported due to social stigma and the risk of reprisals. The law imposes penalties for extramarital sex and allows rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victims. Rape and other sexual violence have become increasingly serious problems in the lawless environment created by the civil conflict.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0 / 4

There are few protections against exploitative labor practices. Forced labor, sexual exploitation, abuse in detention facilities, and starvation are widespread among migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, many of whom are beholden to human traffickers. The International Organization for Migration reported that there were more than 574,000 migrants in Libya as of December 2020.

Libya lacks comprehensive laws criminalizing human trafficking, and the authorities have been either incapable of enforcing existing bans or complicit in trafficking activity. Traffickers have taken advantage of civil unrest to establish enterprises in which refugees and migrants are loaded into overcrowded boats that are then abandoned in the Mediterranean Sea, where passengers hope to be rescued and taken to Europe. The voyages often result in fatalities. Libyan coast guard forces, which receive support from European governments, work to block such departures and have reportedly abused and exploited the passengers they intercept. In October 2020, GNA authorities arrested a coast guard commander accused of human trafficking and other crimes.