Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today paid tribute to the memory of the more than 100 United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the cause of peace during 2006 and pledged to safeguard the security of those now working in operations across the world.
At a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the world body’s Headquarters in New York held in connection with the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, Mr. Ban pointed out that UN operations are a model of burden-sharing among countries “but we must never forget that the brunt of this burden is borne by individuals.”
After observing a moment of silence along with dozens of UN uniformed and civilian personnel who have worked on missions in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, Mr. Ban noted that a number of those present had lost colleagues and friends.
“For those who survived, we are thankful,” he said. “For those who lost their lives, we are that much more determined to honour their selfless dedication and courage, by continuing to work for peace and security in the world’s most troubled regions.”
Last year marked the fourth in a row when more than 100 men and women died in the service of UN peacekeeping, Mr. Ban noted. “Now, with our deployment at a record high, more soldiers, police and civilian staff face danger in places like Sudan, the Middle East and Haiti,” he said, citing Friday’s killing of Lieutenant-Colonel Ehab Nazih, a UN peacekeeper from Egypt working in Darfur, as but the latest example of this.
“I cannot accept the risks as the ‘cost of doing business,’” Mr. Ban said, pledging to “do everything possible to safeguard the security and safety of our UN personnel in the field, from advocating robust mandates to ensuring they have the equipment they need to carry them out.”
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, also reflected solemnly on the occasion. “For me, what I focus on on a day like this one is the individual lives, the lives of people that we have come to help the millions for whom we make a difference,” he said.
“When I think of a slum in Haiti, when I think of people in Monrovia (Liberia) who have a little bit of hope now, that’s what matters. And also the lives of the peacekeepers we have lost,” he said, noting that over 100 died in 2006. “That shows that this remains a dangerous job” which is getting more dangerous as mandates become more challenging. “We are in situations very often where the peace to keep is a very fragile one.”
Peacekeeping missions across the world also commemorated the day. Blue helmets serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) held a wreath-laying ceremony at their Headquarters in Naqoura.
Peacekeepers representing the 30 different national contingents that make up UNIFIL attended the ceremony, which saw the UNIFIL Acting Force Commander, Brigadier-General J.P. Nehra, and a representative of the Lebanese Army each lay wreaths at the UNIFIL cenotaph.
Also in attendance were officials from local government and community groups, as well as diplomatic representatives from various countries which have contributed troops to UNIFIL.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), peacekeepers serving with the UN Mission there, known as MONUC, marked the day in Kikwit with speeches and a question-and-answer session with members of the media, who asked about efforts to quell violence in the country’s troubled eastern region.
The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) held a ceremony in the presence of the country’s President, José Ramos-Horta, who said the world body’s deployment in the country would be needed for the foreseeable future to help with the electoral process, security sector reform and strengthening State institutions.
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.