FORCE COMMANDER’ SPEECH FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF UNITED NATIONS’ PEACEKEEPERS
Dear Colleagues, Fellow peacekeepers. Good Morning!
We are gathered here today to commemorate the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. This is organized to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage, and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
Further to this, the event is organized across all UN offices to honour fallen 3,358 military, police and civilian personnel have lost their lives in the service of peace peacekeepers, since the first UN peacekeeping mission was established in 1948 until today.
Dear Colleagues, this year's International Day of UN Peacekeepers falls during the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. The theme of this year’s UN peacekeepers’ Day is “UN 70 and UN Peacekeeping: Past, Present, and Future” with the aim to reflect on the evolution of UN peacekeeping, the current state of play and the challenges of tomorrow’s complex peace operations, as well as to reaffirm our commitment to working 'Together for Peace'.
Since the inception of peacekeeping in 1948, the UN has established 71 peacekeeping operations – in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Let me recall here that our sister-mission UNTSO was the very first mission to be established. The number of people who have been UN peacekeepers — more than 1 million — far surpasses the total number of staff who have worked for the UN in all other capacities worldwide.
Today, while 788 troops and staff officers plus 177 national and international civilian UN staff members serve in UNDOF, some 125,000 women and men serve in 16 peacekeeping missions across the globe. As you are aware, peacekeepers are deployed in some of the world's most challenging and austere environments and mandated with increasingly complex and difficult tasks.
UN peacekeeping has changed since the deployment of the first mission in 1948. Over the decades, peacekeeping has evolved from the classical monitoring and reporting missions that were established in the aftermath of inter-state conflicts, to the integrated and more and more complex missions that we see today in countries that have suffered internal conflict. The failures of some peacekeeping missions in the 90s remain as a blackspot and a solemn reminder to all of us of the limitations of UN peacekeeping and the impact that our efforts in maintaining peace have on the population to be protected as well as on the peacekeepers themselves.
Today, peacekeeping globally has become more diverse, multidimensional and complex. In order to be able to cope with today’s realities, UN Peacekeeping has implemented a series of reforms in order to be 'fit for purpose' and innovative as well as to continue to strive towards greater performance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness, by using new technologies and strengthening partnerships worldwide.
UNDOF was established four decades ago, in 1974, as an inter-state monitoring and observing peacekeeping mission. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, UNDOF has had to face continuously changing as well as increasingly more complex operational realities that have required the ongoing adaptation of the Mission’s activities and its support mechanisms to the realities on the ground – without a change in the mandate and scope of the mission. Many of the realities that intra-state peacekeeping missions face, including transnational and asymmetric threats, UNDOF faces as well in the current situation – yet without being mandated or fully equipped to deal with them. Worldwide financial pressures also impact the United Nations and require a lean approach that has to be reconciled with the need to innovate and use modern technology to ensure that the 21st century blue helmets are truly ‘fit for purpose’.
Dear fellow peacekeepers, UNDOF has accomplished many milestones in the last 41 years of its existence. The mission was so successful because of the professionalism, courage and dedication of our predecessors. Over the last few years UNDOF has witnessed some unprecedented events that were never envisaged by those who signed the Disengagement Agreement in 1974. We are going through the most trying times in the history of UNDOF. These challenges, however, bring along yet another opportunity to prove that UNDOF is here to implement its mandate despite and in the face of tremendous challenges and to keep peace between Israel and Syria. Our mandate should always serve us as guidance and inspiration in carrying out our responsibilities in a meaningful and more innovative ways – not as an excuse for not doing what is required. The recent incidents in April in Camp Ziouani and OP 51 underscored by the relocation of UNDOF forces in September 2014 highlighted the hazards in the field and the challenges that the implementation of the mandate presents to each single one of you. But let me assure you that UN Headquarters and many in the international community have taken note of the work that UNDOF carries out. In the same way that nobody in 1974 could foresee today’s reality in the UNDOF area of operations, no one would have expected the small UNDOF mission of – say - 2010, in the generally quiet and peaceful environment of the Golan to withstand and rise to the challenges it has had to encounter over the past four years, to surge back after having to relocate a large part of the Mission last year and remain relevant in these turbulent times. This is largely due to the commitment of each and everyone of you for which I salute you.
Both parties to the agreement are keen for UNDOF to return to the Area of Separation as soon as the situation permits. This is a strong and reassuring sign of their commitment to the Disengagement Agreement and of their appreciation of the role played by UNDOF in maintaining the Agreement and preventing the situation on the Golan from escalating. We are now planning for a return to the Area of Separation in phases. However, developments in the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo side are unpredictable in the longer term posing significant challenges in the planning process. We do not yet know when we will be able to return, but we are making preparations in order to be ready when the situation allows. I would like to put on record my sincere appreciation to the contingents of FIJI, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands that stayed the course taking on significant responsibilities during these trying times. And let me assure you that the safety and security of all military and civilian peacekeepers will be the foremost consideration for taking any decision on returning to the Bravo side.
To all members of UNDOF, past and present, military and civilian, you are the force that has kept UNDOF and UN effective, successful, and relevant. I would like to remember 54 fallen peacekeepers and pay them homage, who laid down their lives for the cause of peace. It is your effort and accomplishments at every level that ensures UNDOF to be the dependable, trustworthy and effective force in maintaining peace on the Golan that it is known as. Before I conclude, I reiterate my commitment that “We are here to stay in these turbulent times”. The need of the hour is to remember UNDOF’s motto “One Mission - One Team - One Goal”. I am pleased that UNDOF has turned a page and is on a good course into the future to continue to implement its mandate. To be successful, we must all work together towards the same objectives. Remember, today our challenge is to maintain the successful record of our predecessors: for UNDOF to keep peace on the Golan as a monitoring and observing mission – which our predecessors kept and maintained for 41 long years.
I thank all of you for your work and continuous efforts in the pursuit of peace.