UN Peacekeeping: Service and Sacrifice…and Success

For the past several months, we at the UN have been running a global campaign in appreciation of the brave men and women who serve as Peacekeepers in some of the most difficult places in the world.  Called Service & Sacrifice, this effort honors the people  who wear the blue helmets: the one million-plus who have served far from their own homes since 1948, dedicating themselves to helping individuals and families, protecting vulnerable communities, and providing support to countries struggling to move from conflict to peace.

As we look to celebrate the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29, I would add one more “S” to the campaign: Service, Sacrifice & SUCCESS.

Recent evidence of UN Peacekeeping’s success can be seen in West Africa, where the last of the three “Mano River missions” –  Liberia – closed operations at the end of March.  This followed the successful completion of the UN missions in Sierra Leone in December 2005, and Côte d’Ivoire in June 2017.

As an American diplomat in Côte d’Ivoire from 1998-2000, I followed the situations in the region closely as civil wars were tearing apart Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire was beginning its own slide into conflict.  At times, it seemed the international community would be unable to help these nations avoid the terrible violence that was destroying their citizens’ communities, hopes and very lives.   But, as leaders that wanted a path to peace emerged in these nations, the UN Security Council and key members of its permanent five determined a way forward – UN peacekeeping missions with the tough mandates the difficult situations demanded.  While the timelines for winding down the missions varied, the Council maintained its support for them until each country could move toward a lasting peace without the ongoing need for UN troops on the ground.

Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, and Liberia continue to move in a positive direction, and this progress comes in spite of the Ebola outbreak that struck the region in 2014-2016.  The disease hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and neighboring Guinea especially hard, claiming more than 11,300 lives.  The World Health Organization called it “the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times.”

Many UN and U.S. organizations were on the ground during that crisis, working alongside UN peacekeepers and the courageous people in the region. Now, with the peacekeepers gone, the UN and the international community remain to continue to work with these nations to sustain their development progress.

But don’t take my word for it.  Liberian President George Weah describes it best here, in his recent piece in the New York Times.  In part, President Weah writes,

“On March 30, the U.N. Mission in Liberia successfully completed its mandate, having helped disarm and rehabilitate combatants and helped families to return home. Liberia’s police and army, which once preyed on the population, began to be professionalized. Over the years, the U.N. mission helped the Liberian government extend state authority and promote human rights.

“Liberia held three successful presidential elections, assumed full responsibility for our own security and overcame the horrors of Ebola. We began to repair the torn social fabric of our country. We began to heal and to build. We are grateful for the remarkable work and bravery of the U.N. mission personnel. We honor and remember the sacrifice of the 202 peacekeepers who lost their lives in Liberia. “

Indeed, service, sacrifice and success.

 

Robb Skinner, Director

UNIC Washington