The theme for the 2016 International Day of UN Peacekeepers is “Honouring our Heroes.” The Day offers a chance to pay tribute to the Blue Helmets’ invaluable contribution to the work of the Organization and to honour more than 3,400 peacekeepers who have lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948, including 129 last year.
Today, more than 124,000 military, police and civilian personnel are deployed in 16 peacekeeping operations on four continents.
In a message to mark the Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “They manifest the best attributes of global solidarity, courageously serving in dangerous environments to provide security to some of the world’s most vulnerable.”
Since its beginning in 1948, United Nations peacekeeping has evolved into one of the main tools used by the international community to manage complex crises that threaten international peace and security. In this period a total of 71 peacekeeping operations have been established. More than one million military, police and civilian personnel have served as UN peacekeepers.
Over the past year, UN peacekeeping has faced many challenges. It has proven to be dynamic and flexible in its approach which has resulted in protecting populations at risk and advancing peace processes.
In South Sudan, more than 200,000 civilians, who feared for their lives, sought shelter at UN bases. In the Central African Republic, peacekeepers successfully supported landmark presidential and legislative elections that have set the once deeply troubled country on a path to peace and stability. In Mali, our “Blue Helmets” have suffered grave losses that have not deterred them from implementing their mandate. In many countries, peacekeepers have addressed the problems of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Currently, UN peacekeeping operations receive contributions of military and police personnel from 123 Member States. This impressive number reflects strong global confidence in the value of UN peacekeeping.
While the official International Day of United Nations Peacekeeper’s Day is on 29 May, UN Headquarters in New York will celebrate on 19 May. The Secretary-General will preside over a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of all peacekeepers who have lost their lives while serving under the UN flag. In addition, the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal will be awarded posthumously to the peacekeepers who fell while serving in the cause of peace, during 2015. And the Secretary-General will preside over the inaugural ceremony for the ‘Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage.’
The confidence that the world places in United Nations peacekeeping is reflected in its massive growth in recent years, in terms of both numbers and complexity. Fifteen years ago, the UN 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, along with 18,000 international and national 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.
Over the past year, the ‘Blue Helmets’ deployed across 16 peacekeeping operations around the world have saved countless lives, advanced peace and inspired hope. In South Sudan, more than 200,000 civilians who feared for their lives sought shelter at UN bases. In the Central African Republic, peacekeepers successfully supported landmark presidential and legislative elections that have set the once deeply troubled country on a path to peace and stability. Peacekeepers have confronted armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and disarmed ex-combatants. In Mali, peacekeepers have suffered grave losses that have not deterred them from implementing their mandate. In Haiti, UN Police and civilian experts have helped to mitigate gang violence. When fears of Ebola spread around the world, peacekeepers in Liberia provided security as international experts contained the spread of the virus.
In many countries, UN mine-action personnel have transformed danger zones littered with landmines and explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions, into areas that can be used for schools, hospitals and farms.
As the size, complexity and accomplishments of peacekeeping have grown, unfortunately so have the risks. Before the millennium, about three dozen peacekeepers lost their lives each year; now that figure has spiked on average to 120.
Last year, the list of fallen numbered 128. These peacekeepers came from 49 countries, hailing from the ranks of the military, police, international civil servants, UN Volunteers and national staff. They had vastly different backgrounds, but all shared heroism and the belief that UN peacekeeping is and must remain a global force for good.
That is why it is critical to end the deeply disturbing cases of sexual exploitation and abuse on the part of international forces deployed to troubled areas. I have been unrelenting in my call for a focus on the victims. And I am proactively addressing this serious problem at every opportunity while calling on Member States, which alone have the power to discipline their forces, to impose severe consequences that provide a full measure of justice and healing to the affected communities.
Last year, I appointed a High-Level Independent Panel to review how UN peace operations can be strengthened to better meet current and emerging challenges. We are now actively engaged in adapting UN peace operations, making clear improvements to make them faster, more responsive and more accountable to countries and, most importantly, the people we are deployed to serve.
On this International Day of International Day of UN Peacekeepers, 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. And we pay our highest tribute to the more than 3,400 peacekeepers who have lost their lives while in service during that period. We are forever in their debt. And we pledge today to realize the full potential of United Nations peacekeeping to usher in a better future.