The International Day for UN Peacekeepers is being observed on May 29 across the world including Bangladesh.
The purpose of observing the Day is:
* to underscore the importance to maintain global peace;
* to pay tribute to those who were/are involved in the peacekeeping missions;
* to honour the UN peacekeepers who lost their lives for peace.
There have been about 67 UN peacekeeping operations since the first supervision of the 1948 truce between Arab states and Israel. Their white four-wheel-drive vehicles and their blue helmets render them familiar. A total 112,776 peacekeepers from 116 countries are currently working in the UN's 16 missions in four continents.
Peacekeepers are on duty wherever the UN is called on to solve problems too big for local authority. They are there to maintain peace and protect civilians. They work with governments to enforce peace and monitor human rights and often the conduct of elections. They are sent to a country as a result of a decision made by 15 members of the UN Security Council.
It is interesting to note that although there is no provision in the UN Charter on peacekeeping missions, it started in 1948 by the Security Council when UN observers were sent to monitor truce between Arab States and Israel.
However with the dynamism of UN Secretary General late Dag Hammarskjöld, the peacekeeping mission was expanded and now has been the most successful visible programmes of the UN with a full department of peacekeeping operations headed by an Under-Secretary General.
Peacekeeping mission arguably falls in between Chapter VI (peaceful settlement of disputes) and Chapter VII (action with respect to threats of peace) of the UN Charter.
Bangladesh's participation in the UN peacekeeping missions has become an important component of foreign policy and the country has attained a good standing in the comity of nations. Bangladesh's commitment to peace is demonstrated by its contribution to the UN peacekeeping missions.
This year, Bangladesh has stepped into 25th year of participation in UN peacekeeping mission across the world. Bangladesh uniformed personnel have set values, norms and professionalism wherever they went. Their role was admired by successive Secretaries General of the UN.
In 1988, Bangladesh first joined the UN peacekeeping mission with only 15 military observers. As of May 2013, there are 8,826 Bangladesh soldiers and officers serving the UN in various conflict zones of the world. At least an additional contingent of 600 Bangladesh troops will join the United Nations peacekeeping operations soon.. That will take the total strength of the Bangladesh troops in the UN peace-keeping operations close to 9,500.
Bangladeshi army General led the peacekeeping mission in Mozambique in 1994 and another army General in Georgia in 2002. One Bangladeshi General led the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
Since the peacekeeping missions are often in hostile environment, there have been casualties of Bangladeshi peacekeepers. As of September 2012, a total of 109 brave peacekeepers (including one woman army major) from Bangladesh died for the cause of world peace, security and humanity and 142 injured.
Bangladesh provided to the UN until May 2012, three Bell-22 helicopters, one MI-17 helicopter, one C-130 transport aircraft, a Frigate and an Off-shore Patrol Vessel to the UN for peacekeeping purpose.
Besides male keepers, Bangladesh sent women peacekeepers from air force and police Women keepers from police were sent to Haiti in 2010. “According to the UN mandate, our activities in quake-ravaged Haiti will be providing humanitarian activities besides community policing. We will also provide primary education, primary healthcare, protection on violence against women, prevention of HIV, Aids training and so on,” said Rokeya Sultana, who would command the women's contingent.
Bangladesh can hold its head high in the global arena because the Bangladeshi uniformed personnel have earned the gratitude of millions in lands, mostly in Africa, far distant from Bangladesh They have helped restore tranquility and peace in many war-torn parts of the globe and have ushered in an era of hope in countries which had only known despair and war.
During the UN General Assembly session in 2012, the Secretary General Ban ki-moon conveyed their appreciation of the role of Bangladesh peacekeeping forces to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while she was attending the session of the GA of the UN. Bangladesh became a member of a UN board for peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh has earned the position of the Chair of the UN Peace-building Commission and the Membership of Peace-Building Fund.
Peacekeeping mission is to be distinguished from peace-making and peace-building missions.
Peace-making is usually aimed at cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace while peacekeeping is to maintain peace, agreed between parties. That means once peace is restored, peacekeeping is to ensure that peace remains in the area.
Peace-building refers to efforts aimed at economic development, institution building, and more generally the creation or restoration within the countries of the conditions necessary to make them stable and peaceful after wars. It may involve rehabilitation of people and reconstruction of infrastructures. Peace-building after war is to help ensure there is no recurrence of war.
In future Bangladesh uniformed personnel may have to participate in the UN peace-making or peace-building missions of the UN. In the light of this, Bangladesh armed forces need rigorous training on the methods or mechanisms used for peace-making or peace-building.
At present 116 member-states contribute to the peacekeeping missions and interaction among peacekeepers from highest to lowest level is carried out in English/French. In this regard appropriate training together with learning and speaking in English language with ease and fluency may have to be provided by the Institute of Peace Support Operation Training for the Bangladeshi ordinary soldiers at Rajendrapur to carry out their work effectively.
The ultimate aim of any UN peacekeeping mission is to ensure that peacekeeping mission is no longer necessary so that people can live in peace, security and with dignity.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.