Two fallen peacekeepers from India were honured here today along with 124 other military, police and civilian personnel with a posthumous UN medal for their courage and sacrifice while serving in UN peacekeeping operations last year.
Lance Naik Nand Ram, who served with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and Raju Joseph, who had served in a civilian capacity with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), were awarded the Dag Hammarskjold Medal in a solemn ceremony on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers commemorated today.
India's Ambassador to the UN Asoke Mukerji received the medal on behalf of the late Indian Lance Naik, while Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare received the medal on behalf of all civilians who were killed while serving in peacekeeping missions last year.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the "courageous men and women" lost their lives while defending the most vulnerable people in some of the most dangerous places on earth.
He said the risks that UN peacekeepers face are growing "steadily – from attacks by extremists and rebel groups to the threat of diseases, including Ebola.
"UN Peacekeeping will continue to carry risks and sadly this will not be the last time we gather together to mourn. Our peacekeepers carry a heavy burden for all of us. But their hard work and successes have made UN peacekeeping an irreplaceable tool for the international community to address countries in conflict and to help the millions of people affected by war.
"The fact that 125,000 peacekeepers serve today, an all-time high, is a true testament to the faith and confidence entrusted in them," Ban said in remarks at the ceremony.
The commemoration of the international peacekeepers' day marked the 7th successive year in which the UN honoured more than 100 "blue helmets" who lost their lives the previous year while serving the cause of peace, according to a UN statement.
A day before the annual commemoration, an Indian peacekeeper was injured in fresh firing in the troubled Malakal region of South Sudan.Last year eight Indian soldiers had posthumously received the medal, named after the second UN Secretary General.
India is among the largest contributors of military and police personnel to UN peacekeeping.
It currently deploys 8,112 military and police personnel to the UN peacekeeping operations in Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, the Middle East, Sudan, South Sudan and Western Sahara.
So far, India has contributed nearly 180,000 troops to UN peacekeeping missions, including the 103-strong Indian female police unit in the UN mission in Liberia.
Earlier in the day, a wreath-laying ceremony was held in the world body's headquarters to pay homage to the 126 peacekeepers from 38 countries who were killed in various operations last year as well as to the 3,366 who have lost their lives in the history of UN peacekeeping.
"This is a time of danger and growth for our United Nations blue helmets. The operational environments are getting worse. Our peacekeepers are increasingly exposed to asymmetric threats. They are attacked, targeted and killed by extremists," Ban said in his remarks at the ceremony.
The UN Chief said he takes "these dangers very seriously" and has been taking measures to "adapt our operations to these more dangerous environments. We need new capabilities. We cannot do 21st century peacekeeping with 20th century tools.
"Our experts are taking steps to provide better safety and security. We have started deploying more armoured vehicles. We are enhancing security at our facilities. We are utilizing new technology to carry out work which would be more dangerous if it had to be done by peacekeepers," he said.
In his message issued last week, Khare had said the international community has high expectations from UN civilian and military peacekeepers and "we must ensure they are provided with all the support they need to undertake their important tasks."
The International Day of UN Peacekeepers was established by the General Assembly in 2002 in tribute to all men and women serving in peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage, and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
The General Assembly had designated May 29 as the commemoration day because it was the date in 1948 when the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), the world body’s first peacekeeping mission, began operations in Palestine.
The Dag Hammarskjold Medal was established in December 2000 and is awarded posthumously to members of peacekeeping operations who lost their lives during service with a peacekeeping operation under the operational control and authority of the United Nations.
Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat, died in a mysterious 1961 plane crash. He was posthumously awarded a Nobel Peace Prize the year he died.