By Richard Johnson
GENEVA (IDN) - Peacekeeping is one among a range of activities undertaken by the United Nations (UN) to maintain international peace and security throughout the world. Presently, 120,000 peacekeepers are serving in 17 missions in some of the most dangerous places around the globe.
On May 29, the world body acknowledged the services of those military, police and civilian personnel, and paid tribute to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving as UN peacekeepers.
"Today we honour the 112 fallen heroes who died while serving under the United Nations flag in 2011," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York. So far this year, another 31 peacekeepers have died while serving the Organization
"They may be soldiers, police or national staff. But there are no differences among them in terms of the risks they faced, the contributions they made, and the pride they took in their service to the United Nations," he stated. "The difference between an ordinary person and a hero is that the hero voluntarily braves danger to save others."
Observed annually on May 29, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers aims to honour the memory of the UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace, and pay tribute to all the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, in UN peacekeeping operations.
The theme for this year’s observance is 'Peacekeeping is a Global Partnership,' highlighting the global partnerships that help sustain UN peacekeeping. These partnerships include those with the Security Council, which provides UN peacekeeping with legal and political authority; with the Member States, which provide personnel and financial contributions; and, with the host countries where peacekeeping missions are located.
“Our goal in peacekeeping is to bring lasting stability to troubled areas so that blue helmets are no longer needed. We would like to put ourselves out of business,” said Ban. "But until that day comes, we stand ready to help, carrying on the work of those we remember today."
The value of peacekeeping
Ban recalled addressing hundreds of high school students from around the world in the UN General Assembly Hall. They had been invited by the United Nations Foundation. The UN Foundation asked the students to write a few words to blue helmets as part of their "Thank a UN Peacekeeper" campaign.
The students spoke eloquently about the value of peacekeeping. One young man said: "I sincerely thank you for doing what most people wish they had the bravery to do; to stand up for and protect those who cannot protect themselves."
Another teen said: "I'm from Spain and from there we send you forces. I am really proud of what you are doing." A young man from the Dominican Republic said: "Thank you for taking on these missions not because they were easy, but because they were hard. Thank you for helping to make a difference in the world."
And a young woman from Beirut wrote: "As a Lebanese citizen your work has changed the lives of many people around me. Thank you for keeping our world peaceful." One young woman from India summed up the thoughts of many people. She wrote to the peacekeepers simply: "Thank you. Because of you, the rest of the world sleeps peacefully."
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, told the ceremony that it is "completely unacceptable" whenever UN peacekeepers are targeted. “I call on everyone to respect the mandated role of our blue helmets to keep the peace in some of the world’s most troubled places," he said.
Peacekeepers help to protect millions of vulnerable civilian from violence, he added. "This is not easy work. We go in order to give hope to people who have been through the horror of war, and who yearn for a chance to rebuild their lives in peace," the peacekeeping chief said.
Re-committing to peacekeeping
Touching on this year's theme for the Day, Ladsous said the UN's partnership with Member States who support and resource peacekeeping is "the critical foundation for our joint efforts."
“The best way we can honour our fallen colleagues is by re-committing ourselves to the work of keeping the peace, the work for which they sacrificed their lives,” he stated at the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony to honour fallen peacekeepers, also held at UN Headquarters.
Currently, UN peacekeeping operations receive contributions of military and police personnel from 116 Member States. In addition to the partnerships with individual nations, UN peacekeeping works closely with UN agencies, funds and programmes working on the ground, as well as with regional organizations, such as the African Union.
The International Day is being marked with events at various peacekeeping missions, including parades and cultural programmes in the Darfur region of Sudan and in Liberia, as well as ceremonies in South Sudan and Lebanon.
Among activities undertaken by the UN to maintain international peace and security are: conflict prevention and mediation; peacemaking; peace enforcement; and peacebuilding.
Conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace enforcement rarely occur in a linear or sequential way. Experience has shown that they should be seen as mutually reinforcing. If they are used piecemeal or in isolation, they fail to provide the comprehensive approach required to address the root causes of conflict and hence reduce the risk of conflict recurring.
Conflict prevention involves diplomatic measures to keep intra-state or inter-state tensions and disputes from escalating into violent conflict. It includes early warning, information gathering and a careful analysis of the factors driving the conflict. Conflict prevention activities may include the use of the Secretary-General's “good offices,” preventive deployment of UN missions or conflict mediation led by the Department of Political Affairs.
Peacemaking generally includes measures to address conflicts in progress and usually involves diplomatic action to bring hostile parties to a negotiated agreement. The UN Secretary-General may exercise his or her “good offices” to facilitate the resolution of the conflict. Peacemakers may also be envoys, governments, groups of states, regional organizations or the United Nations. Peacemaking efforts may also be undertaken by unofficial and non-governmental groups, or by a prominent personality working independently.
Peace enforcement involves the application of a range of coercive measures, including the use of military force. It requires the explicit authorization of the Security Council. It is used to restore international peace and security in situations where the Security Council has decided to act in the face of a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Council may utilize, where appropriate, regional organizations and agencies for enforcement action under its authority and in accordance with the UN Charter.
Peacebuilding aims to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development. It is a complex, long-term process of creating the necessary conditions for sustainable peace. Peacebuilding measures address core issues that effect the functioning of society and the State, and seek to enhance the capacity of the State to effectively and legitimately carry out its core functions.
The boundaries between conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peace enforcement have become increasingly blurred. Peace operations are rarely limited to one type of activity. While UN peacekeeping operations are, in principle, deployed to support the implementation of a ceasefire or peace agreement, they are often required to play an active role in peacemaking efforts and may also be involved in early peacebuilding activities.
"Today's multidimensional peacekeeping operations facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law," says the UN, adding: "UN peacekeeping operations may use force to defend themselves, their mandate, and civilians, particularly in situations where the State is unable to provide security and maintain public order." [IDN-InDepthNews – May 29, 2012]
Picture: A member of the Indonesian Formed Police Unit on patrol in Sudan. | Credit: UN
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