The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is an occasion to salute the peacekeepers of today who serve in some of the world’s most volatile and dangerous environments. This day was commemorated today with the Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK) at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi, jointly with UN Women and the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan (UNIC) at a panel discussion on ‘UN 70 and UN Peacekeeping’. The Manekshaw Centre also set up a Peacekeeping exhibit produced by UNIC a couple of years ago but is still very current.
UNIC Director Mrs. Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman delivered the message of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “United Nations peacekeeping has given life to the UN Charter’s aim “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” Through years of struggle and sacrifice, the iconic Blue Helmet has earned its place as a symbol of hope to millions of people living in war-ravaged lands As we commemorate seven decades of the United Nations, let us all do our part to ensure effectiveness of this flagship enterprise of the Organization.” He also said that to meet new challenges, he had appointed a High-Level Independent Panel to assess the state of UN peace operations today – both peacekeeping and special political missions – and the emerging needs of the future.
The Panel was presided over by Lt. Gen. Philip Campose, Vice Chief of Indian Army Staff, PVSM, AVSM**, VSM, ADC who paid tribute to the UN Peacekeepers for their exemplary level of professionalism in upholding the high ideals of the United Nations and making a more peaceful, just and equitable world. He called for a one-minute silence to honour those who had fallen in the line of duty. He reminisced about his stint at UNPROFOR in 1992 calling it one of the first missions of modern day peacekeeping. “Our work is central to whatever else the UN undertakes in conflict zones”, he said. “In Northern Iraq, during our weekly morning assessment meetings of the situation in Iraq, all 14 Heads of UN Agencies were always present”. He also said how new technologies had emerged which should help face the emerging needs of the future but that training was a crucial link. “We have made a niche for training at the CUNPK which has brought us worldwide acclaim.” He also lauded women’s contribution to peacekeeping. “On this day, we renew our commitment to the ideals of the United Nations. We have come together to celebrate this day,” he said.
Mr. M. Muhawar, Joint Secretary Political, Ministry of External Affairs delivered the message of Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs in which she honours the brave men and women who serve far away from home and who should be recognized. She paid tribute to those who had laid down their lives.
Lt Gen I.S. Singha, VSM presented his challenges in UNPKO in Middle East and said that Peacekeeping has become very challenging over the years. He said that at crunch time, you are the person on the ground and you have to take the decisions. New York Control Centre will help you thereafter in anyway. He said that there was no black and white solution in the Middle East, but lots of shades of grey. “The more you think you know about the region, the less you are equipped to predict what will happen the next day”, he said. He gave a very good overview of the current situation. “Indian peacekeepers have been in that region from the very beginning and have stayed throughout the mission”, he noted with pride.
Lt. Gen. Chander Prakash, SM, VSM (Retd.), talked about the challenges in UNPKO in Africa, which he said were totally different from other regions. Some of the reasons for strife are historical factors, borders dispute, ethnicity, oppressive regimes, political instability, military coups, poor economic performance, high unemployment and external interests, among others. Today there are 9 peacekeeping missions in Africa out of a total of 16 in the world. Peacekeeping in Africa is not traditional peacekeeping and multi-dimensional responses are needed. Peacekeeping and peace-building go hand in hand, to alleviate human suffering. He described the pitiful condition of the civilians in many of those areas. He said that female peacekeepers are very important to gain the confidence of the population. We need to win the hearts and minds of the local population he said. Above all, a pro-active public information strategy is needed to dispel misinformation and skewed perspectives. Let us have the right mindset on this Peacekeepers Day.
Col. P.P. Singh, Director, Staff Duties 3A (UN) presented a wonderful kaleidoscope of India’s peacekeeping history. Today India is the third largest contributor of troops. “The UN remains the only world body capable of grappling with emerging challenges,” he noted.
UNIC produced a monograph to mark 70 years of India’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping which was launched by all the dignitaries present and was well received by the audience.
Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka said that UN peacekeeping had evolved in order to meet new challenges. A key element of this evolution had been the recognition that women are vulnerable targets and easy casualties during conflicts. Today, attacks on women are an instrument of warfare. The international community has also realized that women peacekeepers play a critical role in peacekeeping operations. We now know that more than 70 percent of those displaced due to conflict are women and children. “This is where the role of women peacekeepers becomes crucial,” she said. “Women personnel can foster a sense of stability, security and trust between the peacekeeping mission and the community, as well as with survivors of armed conflict. They can respond to the trauma or specific needs of women survivors.” Female peacekeepers act as role models in the local environment, inspiring women and girls in often male-dominated societies to push for their own rights and for participation in peace processes. Based on this understanding, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has made significant efforts to incorporate the needs of women in the planning, execution, and evaluation of its missions. This involves, among other things, increasing women’s representation in mission leadership, police and military components to gender units and, more recently, women protection advisors.
Dr. Reichmann Tavares proposed the vote of thanks on behalf of Mr. Louis-Georges Arsenault, Acting UN Resident Coordinator and Head of the UNICEF office in India.