Peacekeeping ‘flagship of the UN enterprise,’ Ban says ahead of Day honouring 'blue helmets'

19 May 2016

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today led an inaugural ceremony to award the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” as New York Headquarters observed the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

The UN chief presented the first such medal to the family of the late Captain Diagne, who saved hundreds of lives in 1994 while serving as a peacekeeper in Rwanda before succumbing to fatal injury incurred while on duty.

During that ceremony, Mr. Ban noted that the medal helps to ensure that Captain Diagne and those who follow in his footsteps will always be remembered by the UN and the people worldwide.

“This medal is for military, police or civilian UN personnel and associated personnel who follow in the tradition of Captain Diagne. They must demonstrate exceptional courage in the face of extreme danger while fulfilling their mandate in the service of humanity and the United Nations,” the UN chief said.

In a separate ceremony, the Secretary-General also laid a wreath to honour all fallen peacekeepers, noting that nearly 3,500 peacekeepers have died since 1948.

“Peacekeeping is becoming more and more dangerous,” Mr. Ban said in remarks during that event. “All too often our personnel are targeted by armed groups, spoilers and terrorists. In some areas where the UN operates, our blue flag has gone from being a shield to a target.”

The UN chief emphasized that in just one day – this past 12 February – terrorists attacked the UN base in Kidal, Mali. When the firing stopped, seven UN soldiers were dead and 30 more were injured.

Just yesterday in Mali, he continued, five more peacekeepers were killed and a number of others injured.

“These outrageous crimes will never stop us from pursuing peace in Mali – or anywhere,” he stressed.

Mr. Ban also presided over a ceremony during which the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal was awarded posthumously to 129 military, police and civilian personnel who lost their lives while serving in peacekeeping operations during 2015.

“The United Nations staff are often called a family,” he said during that event.

“We share that sense of belonging and the collective will to act.”

Mr. Ban highlighted that much like former Secretary-General Hammarskjöld, those being honoured today were inspiring men and women.

“They were not supporting peace in the abstract – they were in the arena. They lost their lives doing critical work in some of the most dangerous and difficult places on earth,” the UN chief said.

“Peacekeeping remains the flagship of the United Nations enterprise,” he added.

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers 2016 Wreath Laying Ceremony

In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General said: “On this Day, we honour our heroes – the more than one million men and women who have served under the UN flag with pride, distinction and courage since the first deployment in 1948.”

The 2016 observance of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers marks the eighth successive year in which the Organization has honoured more than 100 “Blue Helmets” who lost their lives in the previous year while serving the cause of peace. While the official Day is on 29 May, UN Headquarters in New York is celebrating today, under the theme Honouring Our Heroes.

In his message, Mr. Ban stressed that the confidence that the world places in UN peacekeeping is reflected in its “massive growth” in recent years, in terms of both numbers and complexity.

Fifteen years ago, the Organization had fewer than 40,000 military and police personnel. Today, more than 105,000 uniformed personnel from 124 troop- and police-contributing countries serve under the blue flag, alongside 18,000 international and civilian staff and UN volunteers.

“They manifest the best attributes of global solidarity, courageously serving in dangerous environments to provide security to some of the world’s most vulnerable,” the Secretary-General said.

Also on the Day, Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said: "Our peacekeepers are deployed in some of the world's most dangerous and austere environments. Too many of them have paid the ultimate price while serving under the blue flag in the name of peace. Today, we pay tribute to their memory by rededicating ourselves to the ideals for which they have sacrificed so much."

According to Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, "the sacrifices of the brave men and women of peacekeeping inspire us to serve with courage and dignity and to pursue continuous improvement and innovation in our work. We owe this not just to our departed colleagues, but also to the millions of civilians that we have been entrusted to protect. We must continue to work together to enable complex operations to succeed with rapid, effective, efficient and responsible support."


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