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

A German soldier is watching the sea through binoculars

A German soldier at the EUNAVFOR MED Operation Irini in the Mediterranean Sea in November 2021, © Bundeswehr/Kerstin Brandt

28.03.2023 - Article

The Bundeswehr is involved in the EU operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI. Since 2020, the mission has helped to enforce the UN’s arms embargo against Libya. The Federal Government decided to extend the Bundeswehr mandate for IRINI – the Bundestag has still to give its approval.

What does IRINI do specifically?

View of a cockpit of a military airplane above the clouds
A German P‑3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft© Bundeswehr/PAO Irini

The EU’s maritime operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI was created in March 2020 following the Berlin Conference on Libya. It has several tasks, the most important of which 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 so that the conflict in the country is not further exacerbated by arms supplies from abroad. In addition, the operation is intended to gather information on illegal oil exports from Libya and crack down on human trafficking.

Germany has been involved in IRINI from the outset, the upper limit of this involvement mandated by the Bundestag being 300 soldiers. The Bundeswehr is, among other things, providing support with the deployment of a maritime patrol aircraft and has, moreover, dispatched a ship to the theatre of operations. You can find more information at bundeswehr.de.

The Federal Government has decided to extend Germany’s involvement in the mission by another year until 30 April 2024. The Bundestag will now hold a debate on this matter before reaching a decision on the extension of the mandate.

Training the Libyan coast guard not part of the mandate

The training of the Libyan coast guard and navy included in the EU mandate has not been started by EUNAVFOR MED IRINI. Moreover, it is not part of the Bundestag mandate. In view of the unacceptable behaviour of individual units of the Libyan coast guard towards refugees and migrants as well as NGOs, training of the Libyan coast guard by German servicemen and -women is currently not tenable.

Why is IRINI still important?

After a ceasefire was agreed in Libya on 23 October 2020, both parties to the conflict had commenced confidence-building measures. The UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum appointed a Presidential Council and Prime Minister in February 2021 to form a new interim Government of National Unity and lead the country to elections by the end of the year. Due to disagreements, the scheduled elections were cancelled. The political transition process has since been delayed. The new UN Special Representative for Libya, who has been in office since September 2022, presented mediation plans in February 2023, which are intended to facilitate parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023.

Against this backdrop, active monitoring along the Berlin process under the auspices of the UN and implementation of the UN arms embargo by the EU’s IRINI mission continue to be necessary.

IRINI has aerial and maritime units and conducts satellite-based reconnaissance. This enables ships suspected of violating the arms embargo to be detected, and 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 other bodies, the Panel of Experts of the Libya Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council. Operation IRINI thus helps to promote greater transparency and draws increased attention to violations of the arms embargo on the part of individuals, companies and states.

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.


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