29 May – The United Nations today observed the first International Day of UN Peacekeepers with a pledge from Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the world body’s peacekeeping mission would continue because, even if it cannot by itself end war, it can help prevent a recurrence of fighting.
“Above all, it gives time and space for conflict resolution. It gives peace a chance,” Mr. Annan said in a videotaped message that paid tribute to the more than 1,800 peacekeepers who have died in the 55 years since the first UN peacekeeping operation.
The day – 29 May – was chosen for the celebration because on that day in 1948 the first mission, the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations with a group of unarmed military observers in Palestine – a mission that is still alive today. Since then, there have been 56 UN peacekeeping operations, 43 of them established since 1988.
Today, there are nearly 37,000 UN peacekeepers from 89 countries deployed in 14 missions on three continents.
“Fifty-five years ago, soldiers were sent onto the battlefield under a new flag and with a new mission: a mission of peace,” Mr. Annan said. “That mission was without precedent in human history. It was an attempt to confront and defeat the worst in man with the best in man; to counter violence with tolerance, might with moderation, and war with peace.”
The Secretary-General noted the widespread tasks the missions now undertake, such as policing and training, serving as judges and prosecutors, administering health and education, ensuring that human rights and gender equality are observed, building administrations as in Kosovo and East Timor, and helping the new authorities establish the rule of law as in Afghanistan.
“No figures, however, can do justice to the ultimate sacrifice that more than 1,800 peacekeepers have made over this half-century. On this day, we pay tribute to each one of them,” he declared.
“I am proud to salute the peacekeepers serving today, and to pay tribute to those who served in the past. Their sacrifice has made the world a safer place.”