The EU’s IRINI mission: Enforcing the UN arms embargo against Libya

Eine Fregatte der deutschen Bundeswehr im Hamburger Hafen

The German Navy frigate Hamburg patrolled the central Mediterranean from September to December 2020., © dpa

17.03.2021 - Article

The EU operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI has helped to enforce the United Nations arms embargo against Libya since 2020. In addition, the operation is tasked with investigating illegal exports of oil as well as combating human trafficking.

On 17 March 2021, the Federal Government decided to extend the Bundeswehr mandate for IRINI – the Bundestag has still to give its approval.

The EU operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI was created one year ago following the Berlin Conference on Libya. One of its most important tasks is implementing and enforcing the United Nations arms embargo against Libya. The heads of state and government and representatives of international organisations reaffirmed in Berlin in January 2020 that this arms embargo must be complied with to the letter. In addition, the operation is also intended to gather information on illegal oil exports from Libya, crack down on human trafficking and train the Libyan navy, especially the coastguard.

Germany has been involved in IRINI from the outset. The upper limit of this involvement mandated by the Bundestag is 300 soldiers. The Bundeswehr is providing support by deploying the P‑3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, among other things, and also deploys a ship to the area of operations. The German Navy frigate Hamburg patrolled the central Mediterranean from September to December 2020 while the fleet replenishment vessel Berlin has been part of the operation since mid-March 2021. You can find more information at bundeswehr.de.

The Federal Government decided today to extend Germany’s involvement in the mission by another year until 30 April 2022. The Bundestag will now hold a debate on this matter before reaching a decision on the extension of the mandate. The mandate for the mission at the EU level is also set to be extended in March 2021 by two years until 31 March 2023.

What does IRINI do specifically?

IRINI has aerial and maritime units and conducts satellite-based reconnaissance. This enables ships suspected of violating the arms embargo to be detected and, if necessary, inspected on the high seas.

These versatile reconnaissance capabilities also make it possible to gather evidence of arms embargo violations by air or land. The information obtained in the process is passed on to, among others, the Panel of Experts of the Libya Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council. Operation IRINI thus helps to improve transparency and enhances the political profile of this issue as well the pressure on individuals, companies and countries that violate the arms embargo.

What has IRINI achieved in one year?

In September 2020, IRINI thwarted a violation of the arms embargo by diverting a tanker that was to transport military-grade jet fuel to Libya, seizing its cargo. At the same time, IRINI’s active presence has deterred traffickers from pursuing their activities in the mission’s area of operations.

EUNAVFOR MED IRINI has also managed to establish a close working relationship with the Panel of Experts of the Libya Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council within its first year. Both the experts themselves and the former UN Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams have repeatedly emphasised the great importance of the operation with respect to enforcing the arms embargo.

What has been achieved so far in the political process for peace in Libya?

The intra-Libyan political process has made significant progress since the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020. A ceasefire has been in place since October 2020, and on 10 March 2021 the Libyan House of Representatives approved a new transitional government that represents all regions of the country and is expected to take Libya to nationwide elections on 24 December 2021. The ongoing presence of foreign forces and mercenaries in the country continues to be problematic.

Measures to support refugees in distress at sea

All vessels deployed within the framework of EUNAVFOR MED IRINI are subject to the obligation under international law to assist persons in distress at sea. If a ship involved in EUNAVFOR MED IRINI provides such assistance at sea, a “disembarkation regulation” stipulates that those rescued may go ashore in Greece, after which they are distributed among various EU member states that have agreed to take them in. While units of the operation have not conducted their own sea rescues to date, the operation’s aircraft regularly investigate sea rescues, subsequently reporting them to the relevant authorities. This helps to prevent further tragedies in the Mediterranean.


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