Welcome to the United Nations

Press Conference on International Day of Peacekeepers

28 May 2010

The outstanding resilience of blue helmets in Haiti provided a powerful symbol for the marking of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers this year, United Nations Secretariat officials said this afternoon.

“Haiti tested us to the limit and we showed we have learned from experience and were able to deliver,” Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support told correspondents at Headquarters.  “It was the best way to pay tribute to the ones we lost,” she added.

Joining Ms. Malcorra at the press conference was Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who stressed that the eighth annual International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers — observed today because the official date of 29 May falls tomorrow on a Saturday — was particularly significant due to the record sacrifice made by peacekeepers in 2009 and the first months of this year.

Two-hundred eighteen had died during that period, he said, 96 in Haiti’s earthquake alone.  Marking their sacrifice, the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal would be sent to the next of kin in 55 countries.  He added that more than 700 peacekeepers had died in the course of duty in the past five years, with more than 3,000 lost since the first operation in 1948.

Haiti provided a fitting symbol for the Day, not only because of the tragedy, but because of the achievements of the United Nations Stabilization Mission there, known as MINUSTAH, he said.  Before the quake, they had helped bring Haiti back to the path of development with the best economic growth since 1945, thanks to the stability they helped provide.

He said that, since the devastation, despite the Mission’s losses, it had not only continued to support stability, it had also supported humanitarian operations along with election preparations, human rights, State capacity-building and other endeavours.  The population’s appreciation for the Mission was evident to any visitor, he remarked.

Meanwhile, United Nations peacekeeping remained at a peak all around the world, both Mr. Le Roy and Ms. Malcorra noted.  As of April 2010, 124,000 blue helmets were deployed in total, including 89,000 military personnel and 13,000 police, all of them protecting millions of people and “taking the same kind of risk” as their colleagues in Haiti, Mr. Le Roy said.

Turning to recent developments in worldwide peacekeeping, Mr. Le Roy highlighted the Security Council decisions to wind down by the end of this year, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), and to transform the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to a stabilization mission, to be known as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), in recognition of the progress being made there, allowing a reduction of 2,000 troops and an even tighter focus on the still volatile east.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila wanted to show that the situation had improved, and in many ways it had, even in the east, he added in response to questions. In 2008, Goma could have fallen and that threat had ended and that more than 2 million displaced persons had returned to their homes in Ituri province, after the widespread fighting in 2003.  Peacekeepers would remain in the east because of continued fighting involving armed groups and the ongoing need to protect civilians.  “But those achievements stand,” he said.

At 18,000 troops after the reductions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, troop levels in the east would remain higher than they were before they were augmented.  The Mission would still be mandated to protect civilians in the entire country.  In the case of problems elsewhere, a quick-reaction force would be stationed in the east and travel where needed.

In regard to the period after the end of MONUSCO’s mandate, in June 2011, he said the United Nations and the Congolese Government would be making joint assessments of the developing situation on the ground, as well as on the completion of operations in the Kivus and Orientale province.  Further discussions would determine future needs.

He said that the successor to Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had not yet been chosen.  Reports on investigations into the killing of civilians in the retaking of Mbandaka airport and other matters related to Mr. Doss would be finalized after Mr. Doss was given an opportunity to comment on them.

Turning to the Assistance Missions in Iraq (UNAMI) and Afghanistan (UNAMA), he noted that both had no troops of their own.  The withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq was putting pressure on UNAMI and the situation was being discussed now, with hopes it would be settled in the next few weeks.  UNAMA had suffered an important setback with the attack on its guesthouse.  The Mission was now trying to figure out how many people and programmes could be sustained, given security problems and lack of adequate resources.

Replying to questions on the ambush and surrender of arms of peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan, he said that was not acceptable.  He pointed out that the use of force by peacekeepers was permitted in such incidents.  A joint investigation with the Government on recent incidents would be carried out.

Asked about recent requests for the draw-downs of missions in Africa, he said that part of the explanation lay in the fiftieth anniversary of independence of many countries there.  Discussions on Africans and the African Union taking more responsibility in the continents peacekeeping were welcome.  He confirmed that the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had shown more flexibility in recent discussion than those in Chad and that — along with the fact that there was not wide-scale fighting — was part of the reason that MONUC was being transformed, while MINURCAT was ending.

In other areas, Ms. Malcorra said that the video of the killing of staff member Louis Maxwell in Kabul had been shared with his family after concrete information had been determined about it, but she did not have an update on the investigation.  She also said that the comprehensive five-year strategy for field support she had presented to Member States responded to their concerns on effectiveness and efficiency.  “It is an important reform and we deeply believe in it”, she said.