SIX DECADES ago today the security council established our first peacekeeping mission. Most of the peacekeepers came from a handful of European and American countries and they were mostly unarmed military men observing and monitoring ceasefire lines.
Since then, peacekeeping has developed into a flagship enterprise of our organisation. Today, we have more than 110,000 men and women deployed in conflict zones around the world.
They come from nearly 120 countries - an all-time high, reflecting confidence in United Nations peacekeeping. They come from nations large and small, rich and poor - some of them countries recently afflicted by war themselves. They bring different cultures and experiences to the job, but they are united in their determination to foster peace. Some are in uniform but many are civilians and their activities go far beyond monitoring.
They train police, disarm ex-combatants, support elections and help build state institutions. They build bridges, repair schools, assist flood victims and protect women from sexual violence.
They uphold human rights and promote gender equality. Thanks to their efforts, life-saving humanitarian assistance can be delivered and economic development can begin.
In the past year, I have visited peacekeepers in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. I have seen refugees returning home, children heading back to school, citizens once again secure under the rule of law. I have seen whole societies moving, with the help of the peacekeepers, from devastation to rejuvenation. In Haiti, in Liberia, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the blue helmets have provided breathing space for a fragile peace to take hold.
We could not do this job without our partners in regional organisations. The African Union and the UN are deploying our first hybrid force in Darfur. And we are working with the European Union in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic.
More than half of all our member states contribute troops and police to peacekeeping operations. We are grateful to every one of them. Our special thanks go to the top contributors: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Nepal. Together, these nations of the south contribute nearly half of the UN's peacekeepers.
This anniversary is an occasion to celebrate, but also to mourn our fallen colleagues. Over these six decades, more than 2,400 men and women have died serving the cause of peace. Just last year alone, we lost 87 brave individuals.
Each one is a hero. Today, we recommit ourselves to ensuring that their sacrifices are never forgotten and the vital work of the blue helmets continues as long as they are needed.