International Day of UN Peacekeepers to be marked on 29 May.
Demand for Blue Helmets at an all-time high

21 May 2007

United Nations -- The fifth annual International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers will be marked on 29 May at the Organization’s Headquarters in New York, as well as on peacekeeping missions and UN offices around the world.

This year’s commemorative ceremonies come at a time when the services of UN peacekeepers are in greater demand than ever.  There are currently more than 100,000 peacekeepers from 115 countries serving in 18 operations on four continents, with additional deployments on the horizon.

“We hope this occasion will serve as a reminder of the invaluable work of our blue helmets who each day risk their lives trying to bring peace to conflict-torn societies,” said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. “It should also underscore the importance of strengthening UN peacekeeping, with its solid record of promoting a return to stability, to foster even greater gains in the future, for the sake of the innocent victims whose lives have been ravaged by war.”

At United Nations Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will oversee a solemn wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the more than 100 peacekeeping personnel who lost their lives – whether through attacks, illnesses or accidents – in 2006 in the service of peace.   Mr. Ban, who took office in January, has proposed an ambitious reform and restructuring plan for the UN’s peacekeeping department aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Organisation to meet growing demands, and has already visited several peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East.

Also as part of the commemoration ceremonies, on 30 May, Dag Hammarskjold medals will be awarded posthumously to the military, police and civilian personnel who lost their lives last year serving in UN peacekeeping operations.  The medals will be received by representatives of the respective Permanent Missions to be forwarded on to the next of kin. In a separate ceremony, Under Secretary-General Guehenno will award peacekeeping medals to the military and police officers currently serving in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at Headquarters.

While the Dag Hammarskjold medals pay tribute to the sacrifice of those who died, the greatest monument to their contribution is a set of United Nations peacekeeping successes in 2006. These included helping the Democratic Republic of the Congo hold its first elections in 40 years; helping solidify peace and ensure justice in West Africa by transferring indicted war criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face charges for crimes committed in Sierra Leone; helping implement a major peace agreement in southern Sudan; and supporting elections and helping to establish the rule of law in Haiti by working with the national police to curb gang violence.

The year also saw a major European reengagement in UN peacekeeping as countries from the continent stepped forward to bolster the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, including by providing the UN’s first major naval force, to support a ceasefire in southern Lebanon following last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.

In 2006, the UN undertook a series of efforts to increase the number of women serving in peacekeeping operations, including setting the stage for this year’s deployment of the first-ever all-female peacekeeping contingent: India’s formed police unit – with more than 100 female officers – now stationed in Liberia.

Of the more than 100 countries that provide uniformed peacekeepers to the United Nations, the largest contributors remain Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, which together provide more than 40 per cent of all blue berets. The cost of financing peacekeeping operations – more than $5 billion per annum -- is borne mainly by the European Union countries, Japan and the United States.

UN Peacekeepers Day was established in 2002 by a the General Assembly resolution designating 29 May – the date in 1948 when the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations in Palestine – to pay tribute to all men and women who have served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage, and to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.

UN peacekeeping, built on almost 60 years of experience in the field, is widely acknowledged to be an indispensable tool for the international community in tackling the difficult issues of inter-State and, increasingly, intra-State conflicts. UN peacekeeping’s legitimacy and universality are unique, derived from its character as a collective security effort undertaken on behalf of a global organization comprising 192 Member States.

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