UN gears up to mark Peacekeepers Day amid record demand for blue helmets

UN gears up to mark Peacekeepers Day amid record demand for blue helmets

As the world community prepares to mark the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers next week, demand for the deployment of blue helmets is at an all-time high.

There are currently more than 100,000 peacekeepers from 115 countries serving in 18 operations on four continents – already a record – with additional deployments on the horizon.

“We hope this occasion will serve as a reminder of the invaluable work of our blue helmets, who each day risk their lives trying to bring peace to conflict-torn societies,” said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

“It should also underscore the importance of strengthening UN peacekeeping, with its solid record of promoting a return to stability, to foster even greater gains in the future, for the sake of the innocent victims whose lives have been ravaged by war.”

Over the past year, the UN helped the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) hold its first elections in four decades; transferred indicted war criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face charges for crimes committed in Sierra Leone; supported a major peace agreement in Southern Sudan; and worked with Haiti’s national police to tackle gang violence in the country.

But these and other successes have not come without cost. At UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to oversee a solemn wreath-laying ceremony on Tuesday in honour of the more than 100 peacekeeping personnel who lost their lives – whether through attacks, illnesses or accidents – in 2006 in the service of peace.

The UN Office at Geneva will have a similar wreath-laying ceremony, while also convening a round-table discussion on current peacekeeping issues.

Mr. Ban, who took office in January, has proposed an ambitious reform and restructuring plan for the UN peacekeeping department, aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Organization to meet growing demands, and has already visited several peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East.

UN officials involved in peacekeeping say 2006 was notable for a major European re-engagement in UN peacekeeping, evidenced when countries from the continent stepped forward to bolster the world body’s force in Lebanon, including by providing the Organization’s first major naval force, to support a ceasefire following last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.

In 2006, the United Nations undertook a series of efforts to increase the number of women serving in peacekeeping operations, including setting the stage for this year’s deployment of the first ever all-female peacekeeping contingent: India’s formed police unit – with more than 100 female officers – now stationed in Liberia.

Of the more than 100 countries that provide uniformed peacekeepers to the UN, the largest contributors remain Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, which together provide more than 35 per cent of all blue berets. The cost of financing peacekeeping operations – more than $5 billion per year – is borne mainly by the European Union countries, Japan and the United States.

UN Peacekeepers Day was established in 2002 by a General Assembly resolution designating 29 May – the date in 1948 when the first United Nations peacekeeping mission, the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations in Palestine – to pay tribute to all men and women who have served and continue to serve in peacekeeping operations, for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage, and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause for peace.