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UN Day of Peacekeepers – 29 May, 2023

Blog by Mary Hession, SI Drogheda, Republic of Ireland

#Peace begins with me

The United Nations Day for Peacekeepers is designated to pay tribute to all the people who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations throughout the world.

This year, 29th May will have particular significance for us, here in Ireland.  Only four months ago one of our soldiers, Sean Rooney, on UN duty in Lebanon, gave up his life for the cause of peace and his colleague, Shane Kearney, was seriously injured.   Our President, Michael D. Higgins, paid tribute ‘As a people we take great pride in our unbroken record of peacekeeping with the United Nations.  However, we must never forget the dangers that come with this work, or how the members of our Defence Forces serving on peacekeeping missions abroad risk their lives every day to build and maintain peace in conflict zones across the world’.

The United Nations was established at the end of WWII (1945) with the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.  It remains the one place on Earth where all the world’s nations can gather, discuss common problems, and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity.

The UN Peacekeeping tool was designed and developed to help participating countries navigate the rocky path from conflict into peace.  They are governed by three basic principles:  Consent of the Parties: Impartiality: non-use of force, except in self defence and defence of the mandate.   The  vision was that the UN would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible.

With a mandate from the Security Council and the support of the General Assembly they can deploy troops and police from around the world, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers, in the hope of gaining a lasting peace through political processes, thereby guaranteeing ceasefires and protecting civilians.

Peacekeepers protect civilians, actively prevent conflict, reduce violence, strengthen security and empower national authorities to assume these responsibilities.  UN peacekeeping helps host countries become more resilient to conflict, laying the groundwork to sustain long term peace,  by addressing root causes of conflict.

In 1948, the first UN Peacekeeping Mission was authorised by the Security Council, to send a small number of military observers to the Middle East (UNTSO), to monitor the agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.   It was felt that it would be useful to deploy unarmed or lightly armed military personnel from a number of countries, under UN command, to areas where warring parties were in need of a neutral party to facilitate the peace making process.     From this small cohort, the UN Peacekeepers now number up to 100,000  from 120 different countries  working in 16 different locations throughout the world.

Initially, the membership of the peacekeeping body was predominantly male.  In 1993, women made up only 1% of the deployed personnel, however by 2020, women constituted  4.8% and the expectation is that by 2028 the women will form 15% of the military contingent, 25% of military observers and 20% – 30% of police officers.

In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted its landmark Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.   For the first time in an omnibus resolution, the Council recognized that women bear the brunt of armed conflicts and should have a commensurate role in their prevention and resolution. Soroptimist International supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through its Federations, Unions, Regions, Clubs, by working on the ground with partner organisations and UN agencies to Educate, Empower and Enable women and girls everywhere.

The increased participation of women in peacekeeping operations has been shown to improve the effectiveness of missions, ensure better access to local communities, particularly women, and better promote human rights and the protection of civilians.   In this regard, Soroptimist International in their position paper states that Global politics is scarred by failures to protect and promote the most fundamental human rights in conflict and conflict-affected settings.

Soroptimist International will advocate for the inclusion of women in peacekeeping forces and will lobby Member States to increase the numbers of women recruited to all peacekeeping forces whether police, military, or civilian.