7 November 2008
General Assembly
GA/10778

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Plenary

41st Meeting (AM)


DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL HAILS ‘COURAGEOUS SPIRIT’ OF UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPERS,


URGES BROADER SUPPORT, AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY MARKS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF PEACEKEEPING


Honouring Those ‘That Have Given Their Lives in the Cause of Peace’,

Assembly Declaration Supports Peacekeeping as United Nations’ ‘Flagship Activity’


Paying tribute to the thousands of men and women who, in the past sixty years, had served under the United Nations flag in its peacekeeping operations around the world, the General Assembly delegates today adopted a Declaration reaffirming their commitment to fully support the Organization’s “blue helmets”, and effectively promote their safety.


During a commemorative meeting, the 192-member Assembly, by a Declaration on the Occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of United Nations Peacekeeping (document A/63/L.16), also honoured the memory of more than 2,400 peacekeepers who had given their lives in the cause of peace, serving over the years in more than 60 peace operations, and commended efforts of United Nations and related personnel currently performing their peacekeeping duties.


In opening remarks, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro, noted that the Secretary-General had intended to join the commemoration, but was in Nairobi, Kenya, attending an emergency summit on the Democratic Republic of Congo, “a mission that aptly illustrated the importance of United Nations peacekeeping operations”, she added.


Indeed, a peacekeeping presence sent a “powerful signal” that Member States were working together for solutions in the best spirit of the United Nations Charter, she said, adding that the more than 100,000 peacekeepers in 18 current missions marked an “unprecedented scale”.  Those operations were moving beyond monitoring cease-fire, to helping rebuild post-conflict societies, nurturing democratic governance and disarming ex-combatants.


However, peacekeepers would not succeed in building true security if there was no peace to keep, she said.  The United Nations could accompany a political process, but not substitute for one.  Where there was none, “we cannot -– and should not —- fight a war”, she asserted, a point proved by experiences in Bosnia and Somalia.


The cost effectiveness of peacekeeping was among the United Nations’ key attributes, she continued.  With an annual $7 billion budget, peacekeepers were helping people in Haiti’s Cite Soleil, for example, live without fear of once-notorious gangs.  “Peacekeepers need our support”, she stressed.  “They need clear and achievable mandates; they need the political will and material resources of our Member States”.


Picking up that thread, General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto, of Nicaragua, said the annual peacekeeping budget represented one half of one per cent of global military spending, a “mad asymmetry” which doomed the best intentions.  Indeed, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was in crisis amid reports of violence against civilians, and sexual assault against girls and women.  With one peacekeeper for every 10,000 civilians, its mandate was impossible to achieve, he said. 


Meanwhile, in Western Sahara, decolonization efforts had been stalled since the deployment some 17 years ago of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), despite the best diplomatic efforts.  He was personally concerned at human rights abuses, and offered to assist all parties to resolve that long-standing issue.


The close partnership that had evolved among the Security Council, the Assembly and the Secretariat was central to future improvement in those and other regards, he said.  Peacekeepers still were being sent into the field without sufficient equipment and resources, and he urged that troop-contributing countries be involved at the earliest stages of an operation, and later, with any changes to mandates.  Going forward, he said it was most important to “focus on ways to bring nations together to solve problems”, so that peacekeeping operations became a rare exception in years to come.


As representatives of the regional groups took the floor, Somduth Soborun ( Mauritius), speaking on behalf of the African Group, renewed his delegation’s commitment to the Organization’s peacekeeping principles:  consent of parties; non-use of force except in self-defence; and impartiality.  Reaffirming Africa’s commitment to the maintenance of peace, he expressed appreciation to both United Nations and African Union peacekeepers.


He fully supported all efforts to promote the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel, and condemned attacks against them.  He also urged a zero-tolerance policy towards misconduct among peacekeepers, including for sexual abuse.  In Africa, the African Union continued to consolidate its peace and security architecture, which included the establishment last year of the Panel of the Wise, and the ongoing work towards the launch of the African Standby Force.  In closing, he called for international support to address outstanding challenges, underscoring that Africa was among the leading troop contributors.


Mohammad Khazaee (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, noted that while United Nations peacekeeping had experienced ups and downs, it had changed dramatically in scale and scope after the Cold War.  While it had been challenging for the Organization to ensure effective, timely and fully-resourced deployments, it was with great pride that Asia had always played an important peacekeeping role and would continue to do so.  Six Asian countries were among the top 20 contributors of uniformed personnel to peacekeeping, and five Asian States were among the top 10 contributors.


Reiterating that respect for such principles as consent of parties and impartiality were essential for success, he also emphasized the importance of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of States.


Speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, Neven Jurica ( Croatia) commended all contributing and participating countries for their brave and dangerous work over the last 60 years and noted, in particular, his region’s significant contribution of military peacekeeping personnel to peacekeeping missions.  “At the heart of every peacekeeping operation remains the protection of civilians,” he stated, applauding the growing emphasis being placed on the protection of those most vulnerable in armed conflict, notably women and children. 


Paying special tribute to the more than 2,500 peacekeepers killed in action, he said that such an “ultimate sacrifice is a reminder of human willingness to fight the destructive forces of armed conflict”.  With that, he pledged his delegation’s continued commitment to support United Nations peacekeeping operations.  


Heraldo Muñoz (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, emphasized the importance of universal participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, which had grown considerably in number, scope and composition.  On the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), he stressed the importance of “going beyond security” and contributing to the country’s development.


His delegation had participated in reform of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the resultant creation of the Department of Field Support.  Recognizing the need to improve coordination among the Secretariat, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, troop-contributing countries and the Security Council, he also fully supported the “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.  As those serving in peacekeeping operations were the United Nations’ most valuable resource, the best way of ensuring their safety was to have well-planned missions.


Hjálmar W. Hannesson (Iceland), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Others Group, noted that as the world had changed, the dynamic evolution and transformation of the United Nations peacekeeping operations had changed with it.  “Indeed, the blue helmets worn by our peacekeepers has become a tangible symbol of the UN for the most vulnerable” as well as a symbol of “the solidarity of the international community […] to help other nations recovering from the scourges of war.” 


Zalmay Khalilzad (United States), representing the host country, noted the success of the United Nations peacekeeping missions over the last 60 years, from Sierra Leone to Guatemala to Mozambique.  Throughout that six decade evolution, peacekeepers’ roles had become more diverse, and the need to address the causes of conflict at the earliest stages of mission planning was essential to creating conditions for sustainable peace. 


Further, protecting civilians, in particular women and children, was now a major concern and component in all peacekeeping mandates, he explained, and the United Nations needed to bring effective solutions to that pressing challenge.  In closing, he pledged that the United States’ participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations would “remain steadfast”, as they were essential to international peace and security. 


Taking the floor in general statement, the representative of Morocco denounced, as a violation of the rules of procedure, the Assembly President’s statement on the Question of Sahara.  Today was not the time to refer to that situation.  Discussing that question in terms that reflected a “flagrant taking of position” was an “erroneous” interpretation of the Security Council-mandated political process currently under way.  Such a position was based on “inaccuracy”, and it had left him “astonished”.  It was not the way to find a solution to that regional dispute.   Morocco had not lost sight of today’s occasion, and, as a troop-contributing country, honoured the sacrifices of men and women for global peace.


The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 10 November, for a joint debate on strengthening the United Nations’ coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.  It also plans to take up the situations in Afghanistan and in Central America.


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