Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led the United Nations today in honouring those who lost their lives over the past year serving under the blue flag, while also raising awareness about new developments in the field of peacekeeping.
On this International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, observed annually on 29 May, the world body honoured 111 peacekeeping personnel who died last year and paid tribute to the some 3,000 others who have fallen in the line of duty since the first peacekeepers deployed 65 years ago.
“We are working hard to improve safety for our personnel around the world. But peacekeeping is inherently dangerous. And the risks are growing,” Mr. Ban said during a wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York.
Last year, UN personnel were killed during attacks on patrols in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and South Sudan, the Secretary-General recalled.
In the coming months, members of the UN intervention brigade will arrive in the eastern DRC and the UN will field a new operation in Mali, where terrorism poses a real threat, he added.
“Acts of violence receive the most attention – but they are not the only threat to our personnel. Many of our fallen colleagues die from disease. Others lose their lives in car accidents on dangerous roads in undeveloped areas,” said Mr. Ban.
“Whatever the cause of death, we honour all fallen peacekeepers for their sacrifice, courage and selfless service on behalf the United Nations.”
While peacekeeping is fraught with risk, it is also filled with promise, Mr. Ban said afterwards at the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony to honour fallen peacekeepers. “Our blue helmets bring hope to millions of people in some of the most troubled parts of the world.”
He said he saw this for himself last week when he travelled to Mozambique, where peace today traces back to a UN peacekeeping mission fielded some two decades ago, as well as in DRC, where UN peacekeepers are working to help bring peace and stability.
“Our aim is to make peacekeeping more effective for the people we serve, and safer for the staff who carry out this life-saving work.”
With global peace and security needs changing rapidly, this year’s International Day focuses on how UN peacekeeping is ‘Adapting to new challenges’.
As the Secretary-General noted in his message for the Day, UN peacekeeping is increasingly called on to deploy multi-dimensional operations to help countries transition from conflict to peace, with a significant focus on protecting civilians, including the most vulnerable among them: women and children.
“To meet emerging threats and rise to new challenges, United Nations peacekeeping is adjusting its policies to better fulfil its mandates to bring lasting peace to war-torn countries,” he stated.
Watch the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous noted that peacekeeping constantly needs more and better tools, and more and better skills, to meet new challenges. “We must make sure that the missions are given whatever is necessary for them to fulfil their mandates in sometimes increasingly high-risk environments,” he told a news conference in New York on the occasion of the Day.
He said an example of the new tools being used is the deployment of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) in eastern DRC which will take place in a few months. “This will be very important to improve the awareness of the situation by our troops on the ground and also to deter some spoilers perhaps from doing what they intend to do,” he said.
The UN is also seeking to improve the way it supports its missions in the field, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Ameerah Haq told reporters.
“We’re adapting not only to new challenges, but we’re also adapting to larger mandates that are being given to the peacekeeping and the political missions,” she stated, adding that her recent visit to Mali was a “stark reminder” of the challenges the UN faces in setting up a new operation.
The Department of Field Support (DFS), headed by Ms. Haq, provides support to field missions in the areas of finance, logistics, information and communication and technology (ICT), human resources and general administration.
“Our aim really is to provide the best possible support in a timely manner in a nimble way and to make sure that all the peacekeepers on the ground have what it is that they require in order to fulfil their mandates.”
In addition to events at UN Headquarters, the International Day is being marked at various peacekeeping missions worldwide. Currently, there are more than 111,000 UN personnel serving in 15 peacekeeping missions.