the International Day of UN Peacekeepers - Via Wikimedia Creative Commons
CAIRO – 9 May 2017: May 29 marks the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. UN organizations together with state and non-governmental organizations hold events to honor peacekeepers who lost their lives for peace, and to salute women and men who served in peacekeeping missions around the world. Since the establishment of first UN peacekeeping mission in 1948, 3400 peacekeepers lost their lives to violent acts, accidents and disease.
When the peacekeeping operations first started, the role of the operations was limited to maintaining ceasefires, stabilizing situations, and resolving conflict by peaceful means. The early missions consisted of unarmed military and lightly armed troops.
The first two peacekeeping operations were unarmed. The first mission was the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) to monitor the situation between Israel and the Arab countries. The second mission was the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Both missions are operating to this day. The first armed peacekeeping operation was the UN Emergency Force (UNEFI) deployed in 1956 to tackle the Suez crisis.
In 1988 the UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize recognizing their vital contributions to realizing peace around the world.
The UN does not have its own military force; it relies on contributions from member states as a legitimate, reliable and effective tool to facilitate transition from conflict to peace. The peacekeeping operations also assist in political processes, judicial system reforms, enhancing the capacity of law enforcement and police forces, and supporting internally displaced persons and refugees.
Currently, there are 16 peacekeeping operations around the world with contribution from 124 countries in the form of military and police personnel. These operations are led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). They include 84,533 troops and military observers, 11,944 police personnel, 7,784 international civilian personnel, 9,474 local civilian staff, and 1,577 UN volunteers who courageously work to protect the most vulnerable populations.
During this day, UN peacekeeping operations around the world hold events to strengthen the bonds with local populations in the countries that they were assigned to and got deployed into. These events include sports activities, school visits, arts competitions, photography exhibitions, street clean-ups, tree planting, conferences and workshops on peace issues. Every year the UN dedicates a specific theme for the day and launches a hashtag to share events globally.
Gender and Peace keeping
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is the responsible department for assisting member states and the Secretary-General in their efforts to maintain international peace and security. The department constantly works to equalizing gender-differences in all sections including: security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, police, military, and elections. DPKO developed a standalone policy on gender entitled “Gender Equality in Peacekeeping Operations”. This policy guides DPKO’s work on integrating gender perspectives in various stages of the operation, including but not limited to, the initial planning of the mission, the implementation, analyzing the impact of peacekeeping missions on the lives of women, girls, men, and boys.
On their background note, the UN peacekeeping emphasizes that the need for women peacekeepers is more pressing as women are better in carrying out some crucial tasks. Women’s inclusion in peacekeeping missions result in broadening the skills set within a mission, empowering them in the host community. Additionally, women are capable of contributing to an array of activities such as making peacemaking personnel more approachable to women in the community, working in women’s prisons, supporting and interviewing survivors of gender-based violence, and interacting with women or girls in societies where women are prohibited from speaking to men.
The UN Peacekeeping official webpage indicates that in March 2017, the total number of women serving in peacekeeping missions around the world reached 4,166.
The first all-female contingent to serve in a peacekeeping mission was from India and was deployed in 2007 to the UN operation in Liberia. Following that contingent, in 2010 Bangladesh sent another all-female Formed Police Unit to Haiti. In 2011 another one was deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These contingents are annually replaced by all-female units.
Nowadays around the world there are five women leading peacekeeping operations and representing the Secretary-General as well as one woman who serves as a force commander.
Egypt and Peacekeeping
Egypt plays a significant role in maintaining and strengthening international peace and security in line with the UN Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union. Egypt works to translate its commitments on the ground through its membership in the United Nations, the organization of African Unity, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Egypt’s first contribution to UN peacekeeping goes back to 1960 in the Congo. Since this mission, Egypt has contributed to 37 UN missions with over 30,000 peacekeepers, deployed in 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe serving under the flag of the UN. According to the Cairo Center for Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa, 28 peacekeepers lost their lives while serving in peacekeeping missions. Women peacekeepers present role models and contribute to inspiring other women and girls, living in male-dominated societies, to actively participate in peace processes and conflict resolution.
Egypt’s vision on peace building and participation in peacekeeping missions follow certain clear principles including strengthening the role of regional organizations in peacekeeping operations, modernizing UN peacekeeping operations including the use of high-tech equipment, ensuring that peacekeeping efforts include capacity building efforts, and ensuring the protection of civilians.
In April 2017, in a press conference held during the visit of the Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, to Egypt, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi announced the participation of Egyptian forces in the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The aim of Egypt’s participation in the peacekeeping mission is to support the stability of the country after the breakout of hostilities in the eastern region of the country by armed groups. The peacekeeping operation is also expected to end illegal exploitation of natural resources and the protection of Congolese residents’ rights.
Sisi said, “This comes in alliance with Egypt’s determined stance to respect the sovereignty of the Republic over its lands and reject interference in its internal affairs.”
It is worth mentioning that the UN operation in the Congo was launched in 1960 and was the first large scale mission with nearly 20,000 military personnel. 250 UN personnel died while serving on that mission, including the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.