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International Day of UN Peacekeepers
An effective UN fit for future peace operations


By dxw

Today is International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. The day has two purposes: to honour and commemorate the memory of the UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace; and to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peace operations.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will preside over a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate those who have died while serving under a UN flag. The UN estimates that since 1948, more than 3200 UN personnel have lost their lives in peace operations – and of those, active and ongoing operations account for almost half the casualties.

102 UN peacekeepers died in 2013, most of them military personnel, underscoring the continuing risks involved in undertaking these missions.

All of those who have died are awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld medal, established in 1997 as a tribute to the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives as a result of service in UN peace operations.

In May 2014, with UN Security Council Resolution 2154, the new Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage was also created, to be awarded to those UN personnel who demonstrate “exceptional courage in the face of extreme danger, while fulfilling the mandate of their missions or their functions, in the service of humanity and the United Nations.”

Senegalese Captain Diagne of UNAMIR was killed in Rwanda on 31st May 1994. Unarmed and in the face of extreme danger, he had saved hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, Rwandans from death between April and May 1994 during the Genocide. In creating the new medal, the Resolution recognised with regret that “His family never received, after his death, any expressions of appreciation from the headquarters of the United Nations.”

UN Peacekeepers are active today in 16 operations across four continents (DPKO in fact manage 17 including the political mission in Afghanistan), ranging from the stabilisation mission in Haiti to the longstanding ceasefire observance mission between India and Pakistan. Almost 120,000 personnel operate in the field, from 122 countries.

Of these, nine are in Africa, and more than 70 per cent of all UN peacekeepers globally are deployed on the continent. The most recently mandated operation in the Central African Republic, was unanimously adopted through resolution 2149 (2014) by the UNSC, prompted by the urgent need to keep civilians safe from armed rebel groups in the CAR.

Reuters reports that “inter-communal violence has gripped Central African Republic since late 2012 when a battle for power degenerated into fighting between Muslims and Christians that has since forced about 1 million people from their homes.” There are reports of ongoing human rights violations and sectarian reprisal attacks between armed groups that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people both inside and outside the country, and left 2.2 million in need of humanitarian aid.

The new Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (MINUSCA), has protection of civilians as its utmost priority in the initial stage, and will take over from French troops, an EU deployment and an AU mission currently in the country. It is envisaged to comprise up to 10,000 uniformed personnel, including 1,800 police. The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) will also transition into MINUSCA.

Meanwhile, high levels of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been confronted over the last year with such innovations as the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade, made up of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops armed with tanks, helicopters and a UN mandate to go on the offensive and neutralise rebel groups threatening the fragile peace in the east of the country. The brigade has so far achieved some military successes, and there is cautious optimism that relative peace has contributed to some political progress.

Unmanned, unarmed reconnaissance drones are also in use for the first time ever with the UN over the DRC, in what Hervé Ladsous, Undersecretary General of Peacekeeping Operations, calls “the UN’s entry into the 21st century from the technological point of view.”

A Force for the Future

A Force for the Future, the theme for this year’s Peacekeeper’s Day, gives examples of how the UN intends to deal with new challenges emerging, using innovation and available technologies to help achieve mandates, whilst keeping an eye on the purse strings.

Ladsous, in his end of year broadcast in December, commented: “Sometimes unexpected things happen and we have, of course, as always, to be nimble and to adjust to new realities.”

Also highlighted were some key challenges, including the ongoing mission in Mali, the unusual mandate in the DRC and a new mission in CAR. Of particular concern is the safety and security of UN personnel in the current global operating environment, in such flashpoint areas as the Golan Heights (UNDOF) and South Sudan (UNMISS).

As is evident from the context, the wide range of missions the United Nations is currently required to conduct and support are more diverse than ever and often undertaken in conjunction with other multilateral organisations. Multidimensional complex conflicts across the world compete for attention, and as they develop, deteriorate, or resolve, the UN must have the right tools for the job.

Promoting effective international peace operations in increasingly complex environments

Wilton Park, in partnership with The Center on International Cooperation, New York University and with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Ministry of Defence, is convening a conference to address how peace operations are conducted in the modern world.

The conference will examine such issues as the UN’s range of instruments to respond to violent conflict, the political basis for peace operations, mandate breadth and where force can and should be used, partnerships and cooperation during operations and resources available, as well as sharing lessons to build in to future operations.

Further information

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

Related conferences

Conference: Promoting effective international peace operations in increasingly complex environments

Conference: Women targeted or affected by armed conflict: what role for military peacekeepers? (May 2008)

Rakhi Sahi; Colonel Comfort Ankomah-Danso; Patrick Cammaert and Jasbir Singh Lidder
Rakhi Sahi, Colonel Comfort Ankomah-Danso, Patrick Cammaert and Jasbir Singh Lidder discussing the topics of the conference on Women targeted or affected by armed conflict

Conference: Robust peacekeeping: exploring the challenges in doctrine, commitments and conduct of operations (May 2009)

Informal discussions at our conference on Robust peacekeeping