United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York will observe the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, three days ahead of the actual commemoration day which will be marked in South Africa on Sunday, 29 May.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will lay a wreath to honour the nearly 4 200 UN peacekeepers who lost their lives since 1948. He will also preside over a ceremony where the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal will be awarded posthumously to 117 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers, who died serving under the UN flag last year.
Among the peacekeepers to be honoured posthumously with the Dag Hammarskjold medal are three from South Africa: Corporal Simanga Arthur Khuselo, Lance Corporal Fhatuwani Calvin Vhengani and civilian peacekeeper Patrick Ntanz. All three served with the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).
South Africa is the 21st largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping. The country currently deploys 958 military and police personnel to UN operations in Abyei, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
During a special ceremony, the Secretary-General will award the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage posthumously to Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar of Chad, who served with the UN Integrated Multi-dimensional Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The medal is named for a Senegalese peacekeeper killed in Rwanda in 1994 after saving countless civilian lives. This is the second time the medal has been awarded since the inaugural medal presentation to Captain Diagne’s family in his honour in 2016.
The Secretary General will award the 2021 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Major Winnet Zharare, a Zimbabwean military observer, who served with the UN Mission in South Sudan. Created in 2016, the Award “recognises the dedication and effort of an individual peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.”
In a message ahead of the Day, Guterres said: “We honour the more than a million women and men who served as UN peacekeepers since 1948. We pay tribute to the nearly 4 200 heroes and heroines who sacrificed their lives in the cause of peace. And we are reminded an age-old truth: peace can never be taken for granted. Peace is the prize. We are deeply grateful to the 87 000 civilian, police and military personnel now serving under the UN flag helping to realise the prize of peace worldwide”.
The theme for this year is “People. Peace. Progress. The Power of Partnerships.” According to the Secretary-General: “Around the globe, UN peacekeepers work with member states, civil society, humanitarians, the media, the communities they serve and others, to foster peace, protect civilians, promote human rights and the rule of law and improve the lives of millions.”
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said: “Every day, UN peacekeepers work to protect vulnerable people in the world’s most fragile political and security situations. The dangers they face are greater than ever, with increasing global tensions, ever more complex threats from terrorist attacks to organised crime and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as a surge in mis- and disinformation targeting our missions and the communities we serve. Despite these challenges, peacekeepers persevere alongside partners in the collective pursuit of peace. We thank them for their contribution and remember with great sorrow our colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the cause of peace.”
The International Day of UN Peacekeepers was established by the General Assembly in 2002, to pay tribute to all men and women serving in peacekeeping and to honour the memory of those who lost their lives in the cause of peace. The General Assembly designated 29 May as the International Day of UN Peacekeepers in commemoration of the day in 1948 when the UN’s first peacekeeping mission, the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), began operations in Palestine. Since then, more than a million women and men have served in 72 UN peacekeeping operations.
South Africa, by way of the national defence force, will observe the day on Sunday (29 May) at the De Brug mobilisation centre outside Bloemfontein. A Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) advisory has it: “The significance of this commemoration is to honour and pay tribute to SANDF members who died while serving under the UN Peacekeeping Missions Flag. The event includes wreath laying by leadership of the SANDF and the families of members who lost their lives”.