In 2011, 112 UN peacekeepers were killed in the line of duty – adding to the almost 3,000 military, police and civilian staff members who have lost their lives as a result of acts of violence, accidents and disease since the first UN peacekeeping mission in 1948.
On 29 May of each year, tribute is paid to their sacrifice as part of the observance of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers – a day set aside to remember the courage of those individuals who put their lives on the line when they deploy to UN missions around the world.
The theme for this year’s observance is ‘Peacekeeping is a global partnership,’ reflecting the key role play by partners such as Member States, host countries and regional organizations in helping the UN address threats to international peace and security.
The head of UN peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous, spoke with the UN News Centre about the Day’s theme and the sacrifice made by the UN’s ‘blue helmets.’
UN News Centre: What role do partnerships play in UN peacekeeping?
Brazilian peacekeepers serving in Haiti. Since its beginning in 1948, UN peacekeeping has evolved into one of the main tools used by the international community to manage complex crises that threaten international peace and security. UN Photo/V. Hazou
Hervé Ladsous: Peacekeeping is fundamentally a partnership. It is a partnership between the political organs of the United Nations – the Security Council – which gives us our mandates. It involves also those countries who contribute human and financial resources to help us do the job. It is, finally, a partnership with the host country because usually that is the way we operate, we have to join our efforts to actually help the country concerned emerge from conflict, be it international or domestic, or to build or rebuild itself. We have only these partnerships to help us do effectively the job we are mandated to.
UN News Centre: What challenges are there in peacekeeping partnerships and how do you resolve those challenges?
Hervé Ladsous: Yes [there are challenges], because the partners do not always have the same vision, so you have to reconcile politically, to make sure all the partners are comfortable. You have differing levels of equipment, for instance, of training – all this has to be continually adjusted and it is one of the priorities to make it work, so you can solve the problems when they occur and preferably before they appear.
Uniformed and civilian peacekeepers deliver school supplies to children in Lebanon. The work of peacekeepers has evolved from activities such as monitoring ceasefires into complex, multi-dimensional operations involving tasks such as supporting political processes and protecting civilians. UN Photo/P. Gorriz
[In terms of partners providing equipment] basically, we have to upgrade the standards for all regular equipment. I would say we do have one major problem: a large deficit in military helicopters, which are very necessary in operations, be it for transporting soldiers and their equipment; or, be it for medical evacuation, including in difficult conditions, sometimes under fire. And, also, to deter various spoilers or armed groups from doing nasty things to civilians, including the mass raping of women. The very fact that we can send in our attack helicopters, gunships, plays a very crucial role in sending the message that we mean business, that we are really decided to do whatever is necessary to effectively protect civilians.
UN News Centre: Why such difficulties in obtaining such much-needed equipment – is it due to the tough economic situation being experienced around the world?
Hervé Ladsous: I think that is one factor. The other factor is that many countries, you would remember, still have a great deal of equipment in Afghanistan, for instance. That of course will change in time; by 2014 I think we will see many machines becoming available again. In the meantime, we are literally approaching many countries to say ‘whatever you can do will help.’
UN News Centre: How do you manage the different visions and expectations of what a partnership will lead to?
Mr. Ladsous reviews a colourguard made up of Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Liberia. The theme of this year's International Day of UN Peacekeepers is partnerships - including those with the Security Council, the Member States and the host countries where peacekeeping missions are located. UN Photo/O. Chassot
Hervé Ladsous: I think we have to be both ambitious and pragmatic: ambitious because we have usually a shared goal and that is to bring back peace and security to a troubled country or region. We have to be pragmatic about how we go about it, and that involves many discussions. I would just mention that my very first trip when I took over my duties last year was actually to go to Addis Ababa to have work meetings with the African Union and the African Commission for Peace and Security, and see how together we could improve the working methods.
The same with the European Union, and with NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. I intend to have contact shortly with the Organization of American States; and, with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] I have already had contact.
I think working with these regional partners gives us additional legitimacy. We have legitimacy through the Charter of the United Nations, of course, but when the regional organization is seen to be strongly working together with us, I think it is a bonus for both them and us.
UN News Centre: What role does Africa play in peacekeeping and partnerships?
Hervé Ladsous: Africa is the theatre of seven of our peacekeeping missions and actually takes up almost two-thirds of our peacekeepers, out of 120,000. So it is a high-priority area and, of course, we do have a partnership with the African Union, which is an organization that has grown in stature, in functionality indeed, for instance the mission in Darfur, Sudan, is a hybrid mission, that is to say jointly managed by the two organizations.
Wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters for the International Day of UN Peacekeepers 2012. Credit: UN Webcast
In another scenario, in Somalia, we, the UN, are strongly supportive of the African Union managing AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia]. We support them. They are the actors, but we are giving direct and very substantial support for the good work they are doing to bring peace to that country after almost a quarter of a century of civil war and strife and suffering for the people.
I could also mention ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States], the regional organization for West Africa, which has been a very strong partner of the UN in dealing with Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and now – but we need to know more – possibly Mali.
Hervé Ladsous: Yes. I think there are a variety of examples. And of course one has to improve. Certainly – I was not there yet – but the beginnings of the hybrid mission in Darfur were not exactly easy, because we had to get to know each other, know about our decision-making processes, and consult a lot. But I think this has established a solid basis to go further. And the other model, that of the support by the UN of an operation which is basically handled by the regional organization, is something in which again we can do better, focusing more on the priorities, agreeing on mechanisms, I think there is plenty of work to do but it is a very necessary task.
UN News Centre: What is the future outlook for partnership in peacekeeping?
Hervé Ladsous: It is a strategic axis of our work and one on which I intend to go further. It is the way. It is the historic trend. The days when first there were not really regional organizations in the sense we know now have passed – they were more concepts, sometimes, than actual operating partners. Now they are becoming that and we can help them actually to develop their capacity. We need to share our experiences, our vision and work together whenever possible. That is one, basically very important, goal for me.
Peacekeepers greet Mr. Ladsous upon his arrival in regional Liberia. "They bring their enthusiasm, they bring their imagination, they bring their courage," he said of the 'blue helmets.' UN Photo/S. Winter
UN News Centre: Can we expect future hybrid operations, such as the one in Darfur with the UN and the African Union, or the example in Somalia, where the UN is supporting African Union peacekeepers?
Hervé Ladsous: Yes. I think there are a variety of examples. And of course one has to improve. Certainly -- I was not there yet -- but the beginnings of the hybrid mission in Darfur were not exactly easy, because we had to get to know each other, know about our decision-making processes, and consult a lot. But I think this has established a solid basis to go further. And the other model, that of the support by the UN of an operation which is basically handled by the regional organization, is something in which again we can do better, focusing more on the priorities, agreeing on mechanisms, I think there is plenty of work to do but it is a very necessary task.
UN News Centre: If you could speak with every peacekeeper around the world, what would your message be to them on International Peacekeepers Day?
Hervé Ladsous: If you allow me, first I would like to say that the International Day of Peacekeepers is an opportunity to remember all those brave peacekeepers, men and women who passed away while discharging their duties. Last year, no less than 112 women and men died, perished in accomplishing their duties – that is something I think we should keep in mind.
I would say these people are very courageous. They bring their professional knowledge, be it as soldiers, as policemen or policewomen, be it as experts of this or that field, they bring it to the cause which has to be upheld in that particular situation. They bring their enthusiasm, they bring their imagination, they bring their courage. I think this is really an illustration of the commitment of many individuals to all the ideals and all the values which are at the core of the United Nations system. And that is quite remarkable.