UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed gratitude for India’s contribution to the United Nations and its peacekeeping missions, underlining the inspiring role Indian women have played for the world body to help maintain international peace and security.
India today contributes about 6,400 peacekeepers to various missions across the world, Guterres said on Friday during a special tea reception hosted by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN to commemorate the International Day of UN Peacekeepers and “pay homage to those who couldn’t return” after their service in the missions.
“My message is of gratitude for the enormous contribution that India has been giving to all causes of the United Nations but in particular to peacekeeping and (I) express my enormous admiration for the courage and the spirit of sacrifice of Indian peacekeepers – women and men, a high percentage of women – in support of the ideals of UN,” Guterres told PTI.
The event, attended by UN ambassadors and diplomats, police and military personnel from peacekeeping, has become an annual tradition along with other solemn ceremonies conducted at the world body’s headquarters.
Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare were also present during the event.
“India has been an example of commitment to the United Nations Charter, to the values of the UN and with the sacrifice of their women and men through peacekeeping,” Guterres said, while beginning his address with a ‘Namaste’ (greetings).
As he ended his address with a “Dhanyawaad” (thanks), he underlined that India has the largest percentage of women in police force, at around 32 per cent, “which is absolutely remarkable and is an extraordinary contribution to the future of peacekeeping.”
India’s UN envoy Syed Akbaruddin said that the country pays homage to those who couldn’t return after their service in the UN peacekeeping.
“Peacekeeping is the United Nations effort which is multi-stakeholder in its essence… All of us are bound together here as Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs). This year perhaps we have had the least amount of casualties but one casualty is one too many,” he said.
“Peacekeeping has been a difficult endeavour but it has not deterred all of us from working together for international peace and security,” Akbaruddin added.
India is the fourth largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping. It currently contributes military and police personnel to the UN peace operations in Abyei, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Lebanon, the Middle East, South Sudan and the Western Sahara.
Marking the day, Guterres laid a wreath to honour the fallen peacekeepers and honoured 119 brave men and women with the prestigious Dag Hammarskjold medal for their courage and sacrifice in the line of duty.
Admiring the bravery and courage of those who lost their lives in the peacekeeping missions, the UN chief said, “hailing from different backgrounds, our fallen heroes were united in their efforts to help the UN attain its most important objective – to save further generations from the scourge of war.”
“We ask much of our peacekeepers, in return, we must continue to do all we can to ensure they are as safe as possible,” he said, adding that more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives in the 72 peacekeeping missions since 1948.
Noting that the missions in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo “are among the most dangerous that we have ever undertaken,” he said, “last year we lost 98 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from 36 countries.”
Akbaruddin expressed gratitude to Guterres for his efforts in strengthening and reinvigorating UN peacekeeping, especially through his ‘Action For Peacekeeping’ initiative.
“This is an ongoing effort and all TCCs are behind you and with you in support for this initiative,” he said.
“We are grateful as the Secretary General has provided the Department of Operational Support to address our issues. It is a useful entry point for all issues relating to TCCs,” he said, adding that the effort streamlines the administration relating to TCCs.
Reacting to the “dramatic rise” in the casualties of UN peacekeepers, Guterres said his first duty is to increase the safety conditions for them and ensure that in “their extremely noble mission of rescuing lives and supporting peace, they would not be so easily the target in dramatic circumstances.”
Even as things are improving, there is still a dramatic number of casualties that “break our hearts,” he said.
The UN chief said he feels a “personal responsibility” for each of the persons and he is also focussed on restoring the reputation and prestige of peacekeepers.
Akbaruddin said the award has given UN member states “images for our heroes,” as before that, they were “unnamed and faceless.