Press Releases

UNIS/INF/77
27 May 2005

United Nations Commemorates International Day of Peacekeepers

VIENNA, 27 May (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations will observe the International Day of Peacekeepers for the third time on 29 May. The General Assembly established the Day three years ago, to pay tribute to “all 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”. The date, 29 May, was selected because on that day in 1948, the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations with a group of unarmed military observers in Palestine.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is currently directing and supporting 17 operations.  Nearly 82,000 personnel are deployed in these missions -- some 66,000 uniformed personnel, over 6,300 international civilian personnel (including almost 1,800 United Nations Volunteers), and 8,500 local staff, representing a net increase of about 48 per cent over the previous year. The annual cost of peacekeeping operations in 2005/2006 could reach an unprecedented level of almost US$5 billion.

Every day United Nations peacekeepers risk their lives to bring stability to countries emerging from years of conflict and misery. Some of them have paid the ultimate price. In 2004, 115 peacekeepers, both military and civilian, from 39 countries lost their lives while serving the cause of peace.  In the first four and a half months of this year another 39 have died, including nine Bangladeshi soldiers who were brutally murdered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the worst single attack on peacekeepers in over a decade.

“The demand for UN peacekeeping is as high as it has ever been.  Indeed, we have more missions deployed than ever before.  As we mark this day, a large operation is being deployed in Sudan, where a 21-year war costing millions of lives came to an end with a peace agreement in January.  At the same time, peacekeeping operations in Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone are ending with new democratic governments in place and the understanding among the people that peace is a reality, not just a hope or a dream,” said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a message to mark the occasion.

“While such successes in UN peacekeeping often do not receive the attention they deserve, failings are widely, and justifiably, publicized.  Cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by individuals serving in several missions have damaged lives, threatened security and tarnished the reputation of UN peacekeeping. I have proposed sweeping changes to prevent misconduct and enforce UN standards of conduct.  Some important reforms have already been implemented, but more must follow, as we work to stamp out such abuse,” he added.

Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia -- the four client countries of the United Nations Information Service, Vienna -- are among the traditional troop contributing Member States of the United Nations.

In Austria, the Austrian Blue Helmet Association is organizing the annual Blue Helmet Forum Austria, on the general topic of “Peace Soldiering”, on Monday, 30 May. The international forum aims at enabling information exchange on experiences regarding specific military aspects of “Peace Support Operations” between military experts in the field. General Günther G. Greindl (retd.), President, Austrian Blue Helmet Association will open the session, followed by Professor Erwin A. Schmidl, Senior Researcher, Austrian Defence Academy, who will speak on “Peacekeeping: A dynamic concept”. Nasra Hassan, Director, UN Information Service, and Spokesperson, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, will speak on the subject "UN and civil society partnerships in support of peacekeeping operations", with a focus on the role of civilian components, civil society and “Peace soldiering”.

The Austrian International Operations Command, part of the Austrian Armed Forces, observed this day with a presentation of the latest version of the book “Going International – In the Service of Peace”. Since 1960, more than 56,000 Austrians have taken part in international peace and humanitarian operations. This number includes 54,000 soldiers, 1,600 police officers and more than 500 civilians. The book (with text in English and German) describes the development of Austrian participation in international missions, from the medical contingent in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the many and highly diversified missions today. It also includes an overview of the Austrian Armed Forces which celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. The event, with the author Erwin A. Schmidl, was hosted by the Governor of the province of Styria, Waltraud Klasnic in Graz, Austria, on Wednesday, 25 May.

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