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International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

Ban

Published May 29, 2015 5:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

On the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, May 29, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the invaluable contribution of peacekeeping to the history of the organization and reaffirmed his commitment to improving the effectiveness of “blue helmets” in the coming years.

“Since its beginning in 1948, United Nations peacekeeping has evolved into one of the main tools used by the international community to manage complex crises that threaten international peace and security,” said Mr. Ban in message to mark the Day.

“Throughout its history, the United Nations has established a total of 71 peacekeeping operations. More than one million military, police and civilian personnel have served as U.N. peacekeepers, including 125,000 in the sixteen missions in operation today.” Through years of struggle and sacrifice, the iconic Blue Helmet has earned its place as a symbol of hope to millions of people living in war-ravaged lands.

The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is an occasion to salute the peacekeepers of today who serve in some of the world's most volatile and dangerous environments. It is commemorated each year on 29 May because that that was the date in1948 when the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) – the world's first peacekeeping mission – began operations in Palestine.

“This Day is also a time to mourn fallen peacekeepers,” said Ban. “During its history, more than 3,300 “Blue Helmets” have died devoting their lives to peace, including 126 men and women in 2014.”

To mark the Day at U.N. Headquarters, the Secretary-General participated in a wreath-laying ceremony in the morning, then presided over a ceremony at which the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal was awarded posthumously to the military, police and civilian personnel who lost their lives while serving in peacekeeping operations last year.

Currently, demand for U.N. peacekeeping operations is at an all-time high. Operations receive contributions of military and police personnel from 122 member states. 

“United Nations peacekeeping has given life to the U.N. Charter's aim to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security,” said Ban. “Through years of struggle and sacrifice, the iconic Blue Helmet has earned its place as a symbol of hope to millions of people living in war-ravaged lands.”

In a press conference at headquarters, the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping and for Field Support, Hervé Ladsous and Atul Khare, also reflected on the service of Blue Helmets who served the U.N. in the cause of peace in what he described as a “difficult world” but one in which there were extensive efforts to adjust to and rise to the expectations of the international community.

“It's an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the threats that we face on the ground,” said Ladsous, on the evolution of peacekeeping in the modern world. “More than ever our obligation is to improve performance. We improve on performance by the use of up to date technology.”

He said that did not mean merely the use of high-tech equipment like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) but was about putting a lot more technical means, many of which were available on commercial markets, to improve safety and security.

This idea was echoed by Khare, who also underlined the need for availability of a wide variety of technology to counter the many “grave and asymmetrical” threats faced by peacekeepers as they discharged their complex mandates and he outlined his priorities for his tenure. They were to improve rapidity and proactivity of support, as well as its effectiveness and the efficiency with which it was delivered.

He said he was “truly humbled” to receive the Dag Hammarskjöld medal on behalf of civilian peacekeepers, and noted that of the 126 peacekeepers who died last year, 19 were civilians, which he noted was a large proportion of the total.

“Today is a day for reflection and gratitude for the service of peacekeepers,” he said. “But today is also a day of introspection, of reflection, on the sacrifices that serve as a stark reminder of the massive challenges that we face on the ground every day.”

U.S. Tribute

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State said:

“Today we honor the service and sacrifice of the courageous men and women serving under the flag of the United Nations with the mission of peace. That mission, which dates back nearly 70 years, is central to the purpose of the United Nations and indispensable to the peace and security of the globe.

“Nearly 130,000 courageous U.N. peacekeepers from 122 countries serve the cause of peace, nearly two-thirds in conflict areas where they operate under robust and demanding mandates often at great personal risk. This is by far the greatest number of active peacekeepers in history – a fact that reflects the steadfast determination of the international community to respond.

“And just as the demand for peacekeeping has grown in recent years, so have the demands placed on those missions. Mission mandates have evolved in critically important ways to address the most pressing needs on the ground, including the protection of civilians. While we ask more of peacekeepers, we as a global community must strive to ensure that they possess the necessary training, tools, support and resources to advance the cause of peace. 

“The United States supports such requirements through robust capacity building programs such as the Global Peace Operations Initiative and International Police Peacekeeping Operations Support. We look forward to continuing work with our partners to strengthen U.N. peacekeeping, including at the Summit that President Obama will co-host this fall, on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly high-level week.”