Ever since the UN deployed the first of its 72 peacekeeping missions back in 1948, more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, at a wreath laying ceremony in honour of those “brave men and women” who serve.
Speaking of “the true cost of peacekeeping”, the UN chief called for a moment of silence for those who “paid the ultimate price” to protect others and “to give war-torn countries a chance for peace and hope”.
“Today, in 14 missions around the world, our peacekeepers serve heroically to preserve peace and stability”, he said, adding that they also “face grave threats”.
He noted that UN 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”, saying that “last year we lost 98 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from 36 countries”.
“We ask much of our peacekeepers”, Mr. Guterres said. “In return, we must continue to do all we can to ensure they are as safe as possible”.
“Today, we honour the memory” of the peacekeepers who did not return home, and “recommit ourselves to carrying forward their mission for a better future”.
Honouring 119 fallen heroes
Following the wreath laying, the UN chief honoured 119 brave men and women with the Dag Hammarskjold medal.
“Fifty-eight years ago, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash in the Congo while trying to broker a peace agreement to end the conflict in the country”, said Mr. Guterres, calling the former UN chief “a tireless and fearless champion of peace” who took “robust action when needed”.
Today’s honourees were military and police personnel, international civil servants, national staff and UN Volunteers from 38 countries who served in 12 different UN peace operations around the world.
“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”, said Mr. Guterres. “The medal we posthumously honour them with, bears the name of Secretary-General Hammarskjöld”.
It is also inscribed with the fallen hero’s name, “forever linking them in our hearts and in our memories”, said the UN chief.
Mr. Guterres quoted Secretary-General Hammarskjöld in saying: “The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”
“Today, as we honour our fallen colleagues with the Dag Hammarskjöld medal, let us also honour them by living up to his call to never abandon the pursuit of peace”, he stressed.
“I offer my highest tribute to those we remember here today, and my sincerest condolences to their loved ones left behind”, he concluded, asking for a moment of silence.