Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal ceremony and Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award event, in New York today:
Let us begin today’s ceremonies with a moment of silence in memory of all the peacekeepers that have lost their lives while serving under the United Nations flag.
[moment of silence]
The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers inspires great pride and inspiration. On this Day, the peacekeeping community, both at Headquarters and around the world, gathers to honour our heroes.
The challenges and threats faced by our peacekeepers are immense. They work hard every day to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable, while facing the dual threats of violence and a global pandemic.
Despite COVID-19, across all our missions, peacekeepers have not only been adapting to continue to deliver their core tasks, they are also assisting national and community efforts to fight the virus. I am proud of the work they have done.
The focus of this year’s Peacekeepers Day is youth, peace and security. In countries where our missions operate, peace cannot be achieved without the active participation of young people.
From the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Lebanon, our peacekeepers work with youth to reduce violence and sustain peace, including through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and community violence reduction programmes.
In doing so, our very own young peacekeepers bring new ideas, hope and energy to our operations. They engage effectively with local populations and contribute to the improvement of overall performance and mandate delivery.
We salute the dedication and bravery of all our peacekeepers — women and men, the young and the slightly older — and we remain grateful for their service and sacrifice.
They deserve our full support, and we must continue to work together to do all that we can to improve their safety and security and give them the tools to succeed.
Moments ago, I laid a wreath at the Peacekeepers Memorial to honour the more than 4,000 women and men who have lost their lives since 1948 while serving under the blue flag.
We are gathered here today to posthumously honour with the Dag Hammarskjöld medal 129 brave men and women who lost their life serving under the UN flag last year and in the first month of this year.
Our fallen peacekeepers — uniformed and civilian — lost their lives due to malicious acts, in accidents and as a result of illness, including COVID-19.
They came from 44 different countries and diverse backgrounds, but were united by a common purpose: to serve our great Organization, promote peace and security and improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
We are forever in their debt.
I offer my sincere condolences to their families and friends, and I hope that the medals presented today offer some comfort. Their ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten, and they will always be in our hearts.
Since 2016, the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award recognizes the efforts of individual military peacekeepers in promoting the principles of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security in our peace operations.
This year, I am proud to announce that Major Steplyne Nyaboga of Kenya will receive the Award for her contributions to this important agenda.
Major Nyaboga recently completed her deployment with the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which ended its operations last December.
While serving in Darfur, Major Nyaboga witnessed the suffering that women have endured during the armed conflict. Many were subject to displacement, sexual violence and political marginalization. Their voices were often not heard.
They needed a champion. They found one in Major Nyaboga.
Through her efforts, Major Nyaboga introduced new perspectives and increased awareness of crucial issues affecting women and children across the mission, and helped strengthen our engagement with local communities.
When displaced women in Zalingei expressed security concerns preventing them from accessing their farmlands, she promoted joint patrols along farming areas so that women could tend to their fields in peace. She also organized campaigns and workshops aimed at addressing issues that affect Darfuri women.
By the end of UNAMID’s operations, Major Nyaboga had also trained nearly 95 per cent of the mission’s military contingent on critical protection issues, such as sexual and gender-based violence. This helped our peacekeepers better understand the needs of women, men, girls and boys, and strengthened the mission’s bond with local communities.
The United Nations remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring that women sit at the political table and can make their full contributions to peace. Major Nyaboga’s dedication has advanced that vital cause.
Her enthusiastic hands-on approach made a profound difference for her colleagues and for the people of Darfur. Her efforts, commitment and passion represent an example for us all.
It is my great pleasure to present Major Nyaboga with the Gender Advocate of the Year Award. I offer her my warmest congratulations.