Responses to student questions from peacekeepers in the field:
Mr. Daljeet Bagga, UNIFIL, Lebanon
Click here for more information on the UNIFIL mission.
I wish to thank all the students who took part in this for asking so
many intelligent and mind-boggling questions. It is also very heartening
to know that their knowledge of the United Nations and peace-keeping operations
is first class. Keep it up.
Daljeet Bagga, UNIFIL
From Lycee Francais, Los Angeles, CA, USA
a. Depuis quand êtes-vous installés au Liban? (Since when
have you been serving in Lebanon?)
b. Quel est le but de votre mission? (What is the purpose of your mission
c. Vous arrive-t-il parfois d'avoir peur lors de conflits? (Were you ever
afraid during any of the conflicts? )
AQuestions are in French. Sorry, I am replying in English as my French
is not so fluent.
a. I started to work for UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)
in Lebanon last December. Previously, I served the United Nations with
UNMIBH (United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina) in Sarajevo;
and later with MONUA (United Nations Mission of Observers) in Angola. I
found each mission to be quite unique and challenging in its own way.
b. The primary mission of UNIFIL is to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli
forces from southern Lebanon and to assist the Government of Lebanon in
ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. UNIFIL has
been in operation for 20 years-- since 1978. During this time it
has been prevented from fully implementing its mandate, however.
Israel has maintained its occupation of parts of south Lebanon, where the
Israeli forces and a local armed group supported by Israel continued to
be targets of attacks by other groups opposed to the Israeli occupation.
UNIFIL does its best to limit the conflict and protect the area's inhabitants
from the fighting.
UNIFIL tries to help manage or control the conflict in south Lebanon.
Through our contacts with all parties in the area, we often manage to defuse
violent confrontations between the two parties before they get out of control.
In addition, our military observations help to provide first-hand impartial
information on movements and developments in the area.
c. There have been many times when UN peacekeepers -- soldiers and civilians
alike -- have been caught in the middle of fighting. This is definitely
a cause for worry.
In Sarajevo, during the height of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina
in 1993, there were several times when I or my colleagues came close to
sniper, mortar, or artillery fire that could have killed or maimed us,
just like the many civilians who were shot and hurt. That shook me
up tremendously. It scared me in the beginning but after some time I learned
to carry on in spite of it. Risk and danger were always high, but
when I saw the courage and perseverance of the citizens of Sarajevo and
other Bosnian cities, I just tended to ignore the risks involved.
A particular incident I cannot easily forget took place in August 1995.
I was following a bus in the UN car when all of a sudden the bus stopped.
Its passengers began scampering out and crying and yelling for help. The
driver had been badly wounded by a 14 mm bullet fired from a nearby hill.
All of a sudden again there was shooting at the bus from the hill. Most
of the passengers ran to take shelter behind the bus and in a nearby building.
I just could not leave the driver there to die. With the help of a young
man - while shooting around us continued - we managed to lift him
into my car and rush him to the hospital. However, the wound was so bad
that he died the same night. I felt very sad. The next day when I
went to the hospital to meet with the doctor, the driver's family members
were also present. I still cannot forget the agonising cries of the wounded
driver and his mourning family - these still haunt me.
From some students at the Mankkaa School, Espoo, Finland
a. What is it like to be an envoy?
b. What is the situation between Israel and Lebanon?
(Janne Grön, Patrick Wardi, Tuomas Kytöniemi)
c. How can you stop the war in Lebanon?
d. What are you going to do first in Lebanon?
(Petri Savola, Kristian Henriksson, Jaakko Lindeman, Ville Tarkiainen)
a. If you mean an "envoy of peace", it is quite challenging to be in the
middle of a conflict zone and try to mediate between enemies.
The main task for every United Nations peacekeeper is to carry out his
or her mission mandate as authorized by the Security Council, to separate
warring factions and to do the best possible to bring about peace between
hostile parties. At the same time, it is crucial that UN peacekeepers stay
neutral and impartial to remain credible and respected.
We do our best to alleviate the suffering of people caught in the middle
of strife and to restore peace and build confidence without taking sides.
We do our utmost to not have our personal opinion cloud our judgment.
Just as the UN Security Council adopts resolutions aimed at restraining
perpetrators of violence, unjust aggression or war crimes, on the ground
it is very hard for UN peacekeepers to be silent spectators while seeing
blatant aggression by the stronger against the weaker. Neutrality is a
crucial principle. Some would say it is the essence of UN peacekeeping,
but a neutral stance may confront a peacekeepers with a dilemma when dealing
with situations in which civilians are victimized or when the UN peacekeeping
soldiers, or civilian UN personnel themselves are ambushed, injured
or even killed.
b. The situation is not as good as one would wish. UNIFIL's primary mandate
- to confirm Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon - remains, unfortunately,
unfulfilled twenty years after the Force's inception. Another task - to
assist the Lebanese Government restore its authority in the area - is a
continuous process. But UNIFIL has certainly positively contributed
to stability and efforts to maintain international peace and security in
the area by its very presence, patrolling and monitoring functions.
UNIFIL is a very complex mission which has faced many difficulties
and uncertainties. At its establishment in 1978, it was assumed that all
parties would fully cooperate in the implementation of its mandate spelled
out by the Security Council Resolution 425. This was never the case. Israel
has not fully withdrawn its forces. The situation is worsened by the fact
that some armed elements in Lebanon feel that UNIFIL is hindering their
free movement in their quest to attack Israel. The conflicting parties
in UNIFIL's mandated operation area have sometimes threatened the very
existence of UNIFIL by firing at UN positions, resulting in loss of life
and property. UNIFIL's tasks are very difficult to attain and are constantly
challenged. Serving the mission as a Blue Helmet or civilian staff can
be dangerous. When Israel established
its self-declared "security zone", which overlapped with part of
UNIFIL's deployment area, the "South Lebanese Army (SLA)", an Israeli military
proxy militia, erected several positions in the middle of UNIFIL's operation
area. These positions became targets for Lebanese resistance groups such
as Hamas, Hisbollah and the Islamic Jihad. UNIFIL faced the dilemma of
being caught in the middle of fighting without the authority or the means
to force Israel to withdraw and to disarm the SLA, or to disarm the
various resistance groups. On many occasions we have been able to
limit hostilities but not prevent them completely. The Lebanese government
supports UNIFIL's mission but has, up until now, been prevented from effectively
exercising control and guaranteeing safety in its southern territory.
However, UNIFIL plays an invaluable role in controlling the armed conflict
in southern Lebanon and preventing an escalation of violence. Through
our contacts with all parties in the area, we often manage to diffuse confrontations
before they get out of control. In addition, our military observation helps
to gather impartial, first-hand information on movements and developments
in the area.
c. To put it very simply, the war in Lebanon can only be stopped
when all sides iron out their differences in an amicable way.
According to Security Council resolution 425 of 1978, Israel is supposed
to withdraw unconditionally from the area of southern Lebanon it occupies
-- but 20 years on, this has still not happened. As a condition for withdrawal,
Israel demands security guarantees from the Lebanese Government so as not
to be subjected to guerrilla attacks against its northern border communities.
Lebanon insists on unconditional Israeli withdrawal under the terms of
resolution 425. The stand-off continues.
My greatest wish is to see an early resolution to the problem in Lebanon
and in the Middle East. In this mission alone, from its inception in 1978
until September 1998, 228 UNIFIL personnel have sacrificed their lives
in the cause of peace and nearly 350 have been injured in the line
d. UNIFIL's tasks are to:
Prevent fighting in or from UNIFIL's area of operation;
Prevent entry of weapons and ammunition;
Observe and report any military activities;
Provide protection and humanitarian services to the civilian population.
UNIFIL's battalions are to check, observe and patrol the area of operation:
Checkpoints have been established on the perimeter of our area at important
road junctions and around inhabited areas. Vehicles and persons entering
the area of operation are searched at the checkpoints. Units also maintain
observation posts, most of which are equipped with modern surveillance
My job as a Press & Information officer is to inform the media -
local and international - about new developments in our area in an accurate
and impartial way. Also, as a deputy to the Senior Political Adviser, I
regularly meet with leaders of various factions and political organizations.
This helps us keep abreast of current developments and lets us use our
"good offices" to possibly prevent violent incidents.
More questions from Finland:
a. What kind of humanitarian assistance do you give to the local
(Anne, Joanna and Tiina)
b. Can you tell us how many people [civilians] have died between 1980
(Helena, Heini, Kaisa and Liisa)
a. On the humanitarian side, UNIFIL plays an important role. Although
we have no budget for humanitarian projects, we do what we can with the
modest means at our disposal. Most importantly, nearly all UNIFIL battalions
receive Lebanese civilians on a daily basis for medical and dental treatment.
Our bulldozers occasionally build roads in the villages. Sometimes, we
have collections and fund-raisers among the UN soldiers to finance humanitarian
projects. Also, UNIFIL frequently conducts "harvest patrols": Lebanese
farmers whose land is near positions of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)
or its ally, the South Lebanese Army, are routinely escorted, for protection,
to their fields by UNIFIL armoured personnel carriers and troops.
UNIFIL also assists the civilian population - with funds from troop-contributing
countries - by evacuating casualties; distributing educational material;
providing schools and orphanages with equipment and social services; cleaning
up the environment and water supply. UNIFIL has also helped Lebanese authorities
transport and distribute supplies to villages in the Israeli- controlled
areas when those villages faced shortages because of restrictions
imposed by Israeli military forces.
UNIFIL works closely with most humanitarian agencies in
Lebanon and other UN- and international aid agencies, such as the United
Nations Relief and Works Agencies for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
(UNRWA); the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR); as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
b. It would be impossible for me to give you a correct figure of the number
of war-related civilian deaths in Lebanon between 1980 to 1998 - but whatever
the figure may be, there've been too many! The war in Lebanon reflected
the trend in recent conflicts in which the number of civilian fatalities
continued to grow proportionally to soldiers or members of armed factions
From Kristen Fetter.
a. I was wondering what your responsibilities and roles as a peacekeeper
are? and why do you have to be there?
b. If you don't mind telling me, do you like what you do as a peacekeeper?
a. The duties and/or responsibilities of UN peacekeepers - military and
civilian staff - depend on the mandate of the mission and therefore vary
from operation to operation. Initially, UN peacekeepers patrolled buffer
zones between hostile parties, monitored cease-fires and helped diffuse
local conflicts, allowing the search for durable, political settlements
to continue. Taking into account UNIFIL's mandate as I've described it
above, this is pretty much what UNIFIL peacekeepers are doing on a daily
basis: patrolling the area, inspecting vehicles and searching persons at
checkpoints, separating the hostile parties, while an overall long-term
solution is being pursued politically.
In this sense, UNIFIL can be described as a "traditional" UN peacekeeping
operation which deploys international military personnel mainly to
separate armed factions hostile to each other and/or supervise a cease-fire
or truce. But UNIFIL is part of 49 UN missions, many of which have
included civilian police officers, electoral experts and observers, deminers,
human rights monitors, legal specialists, civil affairs officers, communications
specialists and other professionals to carry out important functions as
mandated by the Security Council.
b. Yes, Kristen, I certainly like what I am doing as an Information and
Press Officer within the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission. On a personal level,
and not as a UN peacekeeper, one cannot distance personal life, experiences
and feelings about what is going on in the particular place a UN peacekeepers
serves, from his or her "official functions". One starts to identify
with the country, the people, culture and language, most strongly
through personal contacts and friendships with local people and colleagues
from all over the world. As UN peacekeeping staff, we try our best to assuage
the sufferings of the local population by assisting them in various humanitarian
relief programs. It gives immense satisfaction to see some elderly civilians
come and bless you just for being there and helping them in their day-to-day
life. We know that what we are doing is just not enough for them but at
least we are doing our very best.
How are your peacekeeping soldiers selected?
A After the Security Council authorizes establishment of a peacekeeping
mission and the deployment of troops, Member States are asked to contribute
soldiers, civilian police, equipment or services like transport.
"UN soldiers", in fact, are selected by the troop-contributing countries
themselves. They must, however, meet certain requirements set by
the United Nations, such as minimum age (25 years for military observers
and police; at least 18 years but preferably 21 years of age for
soldiers of national contingents); and standards of training, education,
experience and health.
From Phil Byrnes:
What steps or precautions are you guys taking to help prevent terrorism?
Terrorism is a world-wide menace. As far as UNIFIL is concerned, the
prevention of terrorism is not explicitly part of the mission's mandate
but terrorism is a major concern of the United Nations and its Member States.
The United Nations General Assembly and particularly its Legal Committee
have consistently condemned and declared unacceptable and unjustifiable
terrorism and terrorist attacks and have taken legal and political steps.
Precautionary guidelines are in effect as well for all peacekeeping missions
and other United Nations field missions to protect the safety and security
of its personnel against terrorist assaults.
For example, in the aftermath of two brutal terrorist bombings of US
embassies in Africa, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution
calling upon all States and international institutions to assist the ongoing
investigations in Kenya, Tanzania and the United States to apprehend those
responsible and swiftly bring them to justice. The Council called upon
States to adopt, in accordance with international law and as a matter of
priority, effective and practical measures for security cooperation, for
the prevention of such acts of terrorism, and for the prosecution and punishment
of their perpetrators. The United Nations and its family of specialized
agencies - such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),
the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA)- have developed a network of international agreements
and conventions that constitute the basic legal instruments against terrorism
The 1979 Convention Against The Taking Of Hostages, by which countries
agree to make the taking of hostages punishable;
The 1993 Convention On The Safety Of United Nations And Associated Personnel,
specifically focuses on protected UN staff, including peacekeepers serving
field mission from terrorist, following numerous violent attacks against
United Nations staff that caused injuries and deaths;
The 1997 International Convention On The Suppression Of Terrorist Bombings,
aimed at denying "safe haven" to suspects wanted for terrorist bombings
by obligating each State or party to the Convention to prosecute or extradite
such persons; and
The 1994 Declaration On Measures To Eliminate International Terrorism,
which condemned "all acts and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable,
wherever and by whomever they were committed."