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
The mission’s role was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours – an operation which became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
Since then, 71 peacekeeping operations have been deployed by the UN, 57 of them since 1988. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel, as well as tens of thousands of UN police and other civilians from more than 120 countries have participated in UN peacekeeping operations.
More than 3,326 UN peacekeepers from some 120 countries have reportedly died while serving under the UN flag.
There have been 67 UN peacekeeping operations since 1948, with sixteen operations ongoing. . The Commission currently works with six countries, all in Africa. There are currently 15 peacekeeping operations led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 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,(a Swedish national) 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. The UN acknowledges that all activities are “mutually reinforcing” and that overlap between them is frequent in practice.
Peacekeepers monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they may have signed. Such assistance comes in many forms, including confidence-building measures, power-sharing arrangements, electoral support, strengthening the rule of law, and economic and social development. Accordingly, UN peacekeepers (often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets) may include soldiers, police officers, and civilian personnel.
If the Security Council approves the creation of a mission, then the Department of Peacekeeping Operations begins planning for the necessary elements. At this point, the senior leadership team of peacekeeping mission is selected. The department will then seek contributions from member nations. Since the UN has no standing force or supplies, it must form ad hoc coalitions for every task undertaken from various developing countries.
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. Bangladesh has been contributing its armed and police personnel for the last 30 years since 1988 when Bangladesh first joined the UN peacekeeping mission with only 15 military observers.
As of May 2018, it is reported that there are 7,075 Bangladesh personnel from armed forces are serving the UN in various conflict zones of the world (5,453 from army, 340 naval and 499 air forces). Among the peacekeepers 82 are reportedly women from armed forces and 75 police personnel. In Congo two women pilots are reportedly serving and their names are Flight Lt. Nayeema Huq and Flight Lt. Tammana-e-Lutfi.
On 29th May 2018, on the occasion of establishment of UN peacekeeping mission, President Abdul Hamid of Bangladesh is reportedly said among others that the women air forces officers made the country proud. As of May 2018, 111 women police personnel have returned to Bangladesh after having completed their UN missions.
Bangladesh has sent its personnel to at least 45 peace keeping missions and more than 83,000 personal of Bangladesh having served in those missions. They include in countries, such as Namibia, Cambodia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Haiti, Tajikistan, Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Georgia, Congo, and Côte d’Ivoire.
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.
In recent times, the current UN Secretary General of the UN Anthony Guterres (a former Portuguese politician and diplomat) reportedly praised profusely the work of the Bangladesh personnel in the UN missions.
Since the peacekeeping missions are often in hostile environment, there have been casualties of Bangladeshi peacekeepers. In the last three decades, as many as 150,647 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, from the armed forces and the police, have worked in 54 UN missions in 40 countries. Of them, 135 have sacrificed their lives to help establish peace, with more than 200 others suffering injuries. Some 7,636 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, comprising 6,636 from the armed forces and the rest from police, are working on the UN missions, according to UN peacekeeping statistics until August 31, 2017.
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 peace keepers, Bangladesh sent women peace keepers from air force and women police are serving the UN mission.
Women keepers from police were first 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.
As of October 2014, Bangladesh contributed the highest number of total personnel to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, with 8,758 personnel attached to various UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. In 2015, Bangladesh deployed the first all female peacekeeping unit in Haiti, composed of 160 Muslim female troops. The unit was the subject of the documentary Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers.
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. They have helped restore tranquility and peace in many war-torn parts of Africa 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.
Explanations why Bangladesh shows such a great commitment vary. One argument is that Bangladesh is able to improve its international reputation and build “soft power,” which enables the country to claim relevant positions for its diplomats in UN organizations. Furthermore, Bangladesh wins both national pride and diplomatic benefits in fostering its relations with other foreign counties.
Another argument is that Bangladesh is able to give its military professional experience abroad,. Finally, Bangladesh may gain financial and material benefits from deploying its forces under UN leadership because the UN pays higher salaries and relevant compensation. Bangladesh makes about 300 million dollar annually from peacekeeping.
The performance of Bangladesh’s contingents has been described as being of the highest order and the appointment of several senior Bangladesh military officers as the Commander of UN peacekeeping missions and Senior Military Liaison Officers, may be seen as further recognition of the Bangladesh Army’s growing esteem in the peacekeeping community. In 2008, the BBC in described the Bangladeshi UN Force as “the cream of UN peacekeepers”.
The leader of the Bangladesh contingent to Namibia (UNTAG), Lieutenant Colonel Md. Faizul Karim, died in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1989. He was the first Bangladeshi officer who died on a peacekeeping mission abroad.128 Bangladeshi Peacekeepers were posthumously awarded Dag Hammarskjöld Medals.
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 the above paragraphs, Bangladesh armed forces need rigorous training on the methods or mechanisms used for peace-making or peace-building. Moreover, at present 116 member-states contribute to the peacekeeping missions and interaction among peacekeepers from highest to lowest level is carried out in English or 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 hat people can live in peace, security and with dignity.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva