Playing their part for peace
The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is held each year on May 29. It is an opportunity to honour the contribution of the uniformed and civilian personnel who work for the organisation.
The day also recognises the more than 4,000 peacekeepers who have died while serving under the UN flag since its inception in 1948. And it is also an opportunity to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the more than one million personnel who have served under the blue flag.
Civilian and uniformed personnel in peacekeeping missions support ceasefires, prevent and respond to violence, investigate human rights violations and abuses, and help build peace, recovery, and development in many war-torn nations.
It is impossible to overestimate the valuable contribution they make to uphold peace in many troubled countries. However, peacekeeping is one of many tools used by the UN to help secure global peace and security.
The UN says, ‘Standing alone, we can never succeed. But, together with partners, we are strong and changing lives for the better. Today, we thank all those who work with us in the pursuit of peace, including other UN entities, humanitarians, the communities we serve, women and youth, media, academia, traditional and faith-based leaders, host governments, Troop and Police Contributing Countries, Member States, and many others.’
The UN also issues a call to action to the world at large to join the UN Peacekeeping’s campaign online and on the ground, “as we highlight the stories of peacekeeping and the power of partnerships that help us secure peace, progress and sustainable development”.
The first UN peacekeeping mission took place on May 29, 1948, when the Security Council deployed a small number of military observers to the Middle East when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) was formed. It coincided with the year UNTSO began operations in Palestine.
Their purpose was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since then, there have been about 72 successful UN peacekeeping operations that have saved the lives of millions of people around the world.
UN Peacekeeping has unique strengths and the ability to deploy troops and police from around the world to bring resolution to areas where there is conflict.
The nature of these operations changes and is dictated by what is needed to resolve the relevant crises. Different methods and tactics ensure that tasks at hand are accomplished, and human rights protected.
The day is also an opportunity for peacekeepers to strengthen bonds with local populations where they have been deployed to serve. For example, many activities around the theme of ‘peace’ are organised including school and orphanage visits, sporting events, art and essay competitions, neighbourhood clean ups, photo exhibitions, tree plantings, concerts, conferences and workshops.
Many young peacekeepers are deployed around the world so youth groups play a significant role in helping to make sure that the missions implement their assigned activities.
On the holiday, the secretary-general lays a wreath to pay tribute to all fallen peacekeepers under the UN flag for their service and sacrifice. Offices of the UN, including the Member States and non-governmental organisations, usually hold various events.
UN Peacekeepers are usually clearly recognisable. They often display the UN flag and the letters ‘UN’ on their clothing, equipment and vehicles. They also wear hats, helmets or other clothing with UN colours.
Other activities include:
- Presentations during UN meetings and events
- Memorial services and wreath laying events for those who died in peace keeping missions
- Presentation of the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal as a way to honour military, police and civilian personnel who lost their lives while working for UN peacekeeping operations
- Awarding peacekeeping medals to military and police officers who are peacekeepers
- The launch of photographic and multimedia exhibitions on the work of UN peacekeepers.
Events occur in places such as the UN headquarters in New York, Austria, Australia, and other locations worldwide.
Information and images courtesy of the United Nations. More details from: peacekeeping.un.org
Feature image: An all-women Egyptian police unit breaks new ground in mine action in central Mali.
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