The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is the leading group in western Libya, as well as the United Nations (UN) recognised government of the country. However, at present, the GNA mainly controls a swath of land along western Libya’s coast and other localities in that vicinity, while the rest of the country is either controlled by the Tobruk-based Libya National Army (LNA) or tribal and militia leaders. From afar, the GNA at first glance has the same organisation as any normal government, with different ministries as well as other services, but regardless of its efforts to enforce the rule of law in the areas under their influence they are far from a cohesive government. The Tripoli administration relies heavily on a wide array of militias, for security as well as other government-related services.
The GNA’s dependency on these groups is highly problematic, as often the militias have turned against each other for influence in the country, mostly related to financial deals and gains, namely the provision of security for a specific neighbourhood or city. Likewise, the groups have different ideologies, including secular militias and other with strong Islamist leanings. As such, in light of its weak character the GNA does not have either the power or the legitimacy to enforce its authority and create accountability methods for the forces aligned with it.
An essential part of the European Union (EU) plan to thwart migration into its borders has been its collaboration with the GNA, which includes the payment of large sums of money in order to avoid migrants from reaching the EU through Libya. Under this agreement, the GNA established numerous detention centres and different mechanisms to keep migrants in Libya. Given the large number of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe, the GNA lacks the means to enforce this policy by itself, thus relying on allies militias to do so. Indeed, the militias have clear incentives to take part on the tasks, as they receive EU money from the GNA for each migrant in their detention centres. In this context, dealing with the migration problem has become a lucrative business for many militias operating in western Libya.
Taking the above into consideration, it is not a surprise that migrants, to some extent, have unfortunately transformed into a sort of commodity for militias and gangs operating in Libya, who seek to profit at any cost from the people attempting to reach the EU. There have been multiple accounts of human rights abuses within militia-run detention centres across western Libya, including torture, extortion, forced labour, sexual assault and even slavery. As well, even in cases were migrants are not exposed to these abuses, they are held in harrowing conditions, as often militias attempt to have a bigger number of migrants under their control to maximise their profits, without having proper infrastructure.
This situation poses numerous moral as well as legal questions for the Tripoli government, particularly regarding its willingness and capacity to adhere to international law that would, in turn, provide the government with legitimacy vis-a-vis the international community.