The United Nations will observe fifty years of peacekeeping operations on 6 October by paying tribute to all peacekeepers—military and civilian—who have served since 1948, and especially those who have died while serving under the United Nations flag. At a special meeting of the General Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan will present the first Dag Hammarskjöld Medals to the families of three United Nations officials who lost their lives while pursuing peace missions. The Dag Hammarskjöld Medal is a new honour, established by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council in July 1997.
The first Medal will be presented to the family of Dag Hammarskjöld—the second United Nations Secretary-General, for whom the prize is named—who lost his life in a plane crash on 18 September 1961 while on a mission to bring an end to fighting in the Congo. Next to be honoured will be Commandant René de Labarrière, the first peacekeeper to lose his life in a United Nations peacekeeping operation. A French officer serving as a Military Observer in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in Palestine, Commandant de Labarrière was killed by a landmine on 6 July 1948. The third Medal will be received by the family of Count Folke Bernadotte, United Nations Mediator in Palestine, who was assassinated on 17 September 1948 in Jerusalem while seeking a negotiated settlement to the Palestine problem.
Over 1,580 United Nations military and civilian peacekeepers from some 85 countries have died while serving under the United Nations flag during this half-century. The Security Council decided that the Medal would be awarded "as a tribute to the sacrifice of those who have lost their life as a result of service in peacekeeping operations under the operational control and authority of the United Nations".
Since 1948, forty-nine peacekeeping operations have been deployed by the Security Council, thirty-six of them in the past decade. Today some 14,500 troops, military observers and civilian police, 2,000 international civilian personnel and 3,700 local staff are serving in seventeen different missions. Well over 750,000 military and civilian police personnel, and thousands of other civilians, from 118 countries have participated in UN operations over the years.
Reviewing the record of United Nations peacekeeping earlier this year, Secretary-General Annan commented that "the accomplishments of United Nations peacekeeping—as well as the setbacks —have provided important lessons that can serve us well as we continue and refine our efforts to contain and resolve conflict." The important role played by United Nations peacekeeping around the world and the sacrifices made by individual peacekeepers have been recognized over the years. In recent years a few high-profile peacekeeping operations—in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia—came under criticism as peacekeepers faced situations where warring parties failed to adhere to peace agreements, or where the peacekeepers themselves were not provided adequate resources or political support. However, the past decade also seen other, successful missions—in Cambodia, Eastern Slavonia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique and Namibia—where remarkable achievements have been made by the United Nations, according to Bernard Miyet, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping.
The Security Council decided in 1997 to establish the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of peacekeeping. According to artist Louis Nelson, who designed it: "The Medal is ovoid-shaped, palm-sized and constructed of glass crystal to commemorate the fragility, purity and strength of the lives lost for the sake of UN peacekeeping efforts." The important role played by United Nations peacekeepers around the world and the sacrifices made by individual peacekeepers have been recognized over the years. In 1988, in awarding United Nations peacekeepers the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee cited in particular the "young people from many nations...who, in keeping with their ideals, voluntarily take on a demanding and hazardous service in the cause of peace".
In late 1997 the 185-member General Assembly endorsed the recommendation of its Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations to commemorate fifty years of peacekeeping operations at the Assembly's current session. Among the speakers at the Assembly observance on the morning of 6 October will be the Secretary-General, along with the President of the General Assembly's 53rd Session, Mr. Didier Opertti Badán (Uruguay), the President of the Security Council for the month of October, Sir Jeremy Greenstock (United Kingdom) and the Chairmen of the five Regional Groups of States. Representatives of the Hammarskjöld, de Labarrière and Bernadotte families will be present to receive the Medals. Former senior United Nations Secretariat officials responsible for peacekeeping operations, as well as former civilian, military and civilian police leaders of operations in the field have been invited to attend the ceremony. Member States have also been invited to send current or former peacekeepers to attend the commemoration.
Also on 6 October a major photographic exhibit depicting the many aspects of United Nations peacekeeping operations—including tasks involving military personnel, civilian police, and civilians—will open in the Public Lobby of United Nations Headquarters. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette is expected to open the exhibit shortly after 1:00 pm.
For more information, contact:
Peace and Security Section
Kevin S. Kennedy
UN Department of Public Information
tel. (212) 963-6821, fax (212) 963-1186
UN PEACEKEEPING LINKS