The contribution that men and women from around the world have made to building and supporting peace is being celebrated on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of United Nations peacekeeping operations. The deployment of military observers to the Middle East in 1948 was the first UN peacekeeping mission. Its role was to monitor the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours, an operation which became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
A total of 71 peacekeeping operations have been deployed by the UN, 57 of them since 1988. UN Peacekeeping was born at a time when Cold War rivalries frequently paralyzed the UN Security Council, the body tasked with establishing missions and defining their mandates. Peacekeeping was primarily limited to observing ceasefires as was the case in Jammu and Kashmir where the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (pictured), has been deployed since January 1949.
The first peacekeepers to carry arms were deployed in 1956 under the UN Emergency Force to address the Suez crisis. Their mission was to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities, including the withdrawal of the armed forces of France, Israel and the United Kingdom from Egyptian territory and to serve as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israeli forces. Peacekeepers used all available means of transport to do their jobs.
The UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC), 1960, was the first large-scale mission and deployed nearly 20,000 military personnel at its peak. ONUC’s experience demonstrated the risks involved in trying to bring stability to war-torn regions; 250 UN personnel died during the mission, including Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold who died in a plane crash while trying to negotiate a peace agreement. Members of the Indian contingent (pictured) help a wounded Indian Officer into an armoured vehicle. Today, UN peacekeepers are again stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
With the end of the Cold War, the strategic context for UN Peacekeeping changed dramatically from observing to ensuring the implementation of peace agreements. Peacekeepers (including from the Netherlands pictured) were sent to Cambodia following the end of civil war there in 1991 to support human rights work, the holding of elections, to maintain law and order, rehabilitate infrastructure destroyed in the war and help with the repatriation and resettlement of people who had fled their homes.
There have been more peacekeeping operations in Africa than on any other continent. Missions in the formerly conflict-affected West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire have all ended after their mandates were successfully completed. In Liberia (pictured) disarmament efforts supervised by the mission contributed to long-term stability. There are currently seven peacekeeping missions on the continent.
Peacekeepers arrived in East Timor in 1999, following years of conflict, to support a popular consultation process to determine the future status of East Timor. Following a UN-supported referendum, the country became independent in 2002. The mission which ultimately left a peaceful East Timor in 2012 carried out a range of tasks including investigations by the UN. Here a Thai UN Police officer (left) discusses a case with a national police officer.
And in Haiti peacekeepers assisted the country’s transition to democracy as well as supporting reconstruction and stability efforts following the January 2010 earthquake there which led to the deaths of an estimated 220,000 people including 96 peacekeepers.
An increasing number of women are being deployed as peacekeepers in conflict areas. In Mali, there are some 38 women in the contingent from Burkina Faso. Based mainly in the north of Mali, they ensure the security of logistics convoys, military operations for the security of civilian populations and the protection of UN camps.
In South Sudan, which after two years following independence in 2011 descended into civil conflict, UN engineering troops have rehabilitated hundreds of miles of roads. Humanitarian access has improved and increased patrolling by peacekeepers means local people feel safer. This road near Pibor in the east of the country, which was repaired by South Korean engineers has also led to the revitalization of trade and increased the availability of goods in local markets.
Seventy years after the first operation was deployed, there are 14 missions around the world. Peacekeeping remains a dangerous occupation. Over 3,700 peacekeepers have died in the line of service since 1948. Attacks on the UN by terrorists have made Mali amongst the most perilous countries in which to serve. In April, a memorial ceremony was held for three peacekeepers, two Chadian and one Nigerien - killed during attacks on 5 and 6 April in the north of the country.