May 29 is a date set aside by the United Nations (UN) as International Day of Peacekeepers. This annual event is intended to recognise and appreciate the sacrifices men and women of the ‘blue helmet’ make to ensure that the vulnerable remain safe, as they choose peace over war in crisis situations.
It is also a day set aside to honour over 3,900 peacekeepers who lost their lives in service to humanity resolving conflicts, crises and wars in zones across the world since the creation of the organisation in 1948 – even more so for the 102 souls that were lost last year.
This year’s theme specifically addresses the important role women are playing in such delicate circumstances. “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace” is meant to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in an address to the Security Council, emphasised the contributions of women which he said were “central to sustainable solutions” with regard to the challenges facing the world body.
As at December 2018, women make up 35 per cent of heads and 48 per cent of deputy heads of UN peacekeeping and special political missions. In 2017, this was at 26 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.
Also, by December 2018, gender parity was attained among the UN Resident Coordinators globally and UN Peacekeeping Operations. The representation of women police personnel increased to 12.8 per cent. However, women’s share in terms of military troops and personnel remains low at 4.2 per cent as at December 2018.
Looking back in history, the UN Peacekeeping commenced in 1948 when the Security Council sanctioned the deployment of UN military observers to the Middle East. At that time, the mission’s role was simply to observe the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
The first two historical missions undertaken were the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) and the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). It is worthy to note that the UN military observers at that time were unarmed. However, the earliest armed operation was the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF 1) which was deployed in 1956 to see to the Suez crisis. The operation was successful.
Meanwhile, the first UN peacekeeping mission on a large scale, UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC), was initiated in 1960 with almost 20,000 military personnel, 250 UN personnel lost their lives in that mission including the then Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold.
From the 1960s to the 1970s, the UN peacekeeping operations began short-term missions in places like the Dominican Republic, West New Guinea and Yemen. And longer term deployments in Cyprus and the Middle East, especially Lebanon. In 1988, UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
After the Cold War, according to the UN, the context of peacekeeping changed, as it moved and expanded field operations from traditional missions that involved mostly observational tasks by military personnel to complex ‘multidimensional’ enterprises. These were constructed for implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and support in establishing foundations for sustainable peace.
Albeit, the military remains the backbone of most peacekeeping operations. There are also other personnel involved such as: Administrators, Economists Police Officers, Legal Experts, De-miners, Electoral Observers, Human Rights Monitors, Civil Affairs and Governance Specialists, Humanitarian Workers, Communications and Public Information Experts.
Nigeria has continued to play a key role in this noble mission of UN peacekeeping and has also contributed its fair share of troops and police steadily to this in our view, honourable cause since the 1960s. Nigerian contingent played a major role in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) from 2003 to 2018, assisting in the restoration of stability in that country.
Nigeria is said to be one of the first countries to make available troops in Liberia in 2003, and also among the last to leave. Nigeria also had the largest contingent in Sudan during the crisis in Darfur, not to mention Sierra Leone. Statistically, the total number of fatalities reported to date in reference to the peacekeeping since 1948 is put at 3,925.
This newspaper commends Nigerian troops for their efforts in this cause for peace for which they have gained international accolades and repute in service to the UN through its peacekeeping programme, working diligently with the aim to restore peace in troubled zones globally.
We, therefore, deem it fit to join the rest of humanity in celebrating the events of today as we remember not just the blue helmets still out there in conflict zones keeping the peace, but also to those who have lost their lives while performing this noble duty.
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