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Recap United Nations Peacekeeping Day

“United Nations peacekeeping is a proven investment in global peace, security, and prosperity. Together, let us pledge to do all we can to enable that mission to succeed”. – Secretary-General António Guterres

On 29 May the world celebrated the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. Each year on this day, tribute is paid to those who serve and served in UN Peacekeeping operations and to commemorate the more than 3800 peacekeepers who lost their lives serving un the UN flag. The date marks the day on which the UN launched its first peacekeeping operation: the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) of 1948, that monitored the cease-fire between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Now, 71 years after the establishment of UNTSO, around 100 thousand military and police personnel, as well as 13 thousand civilians are active in fourteen peacekeeping operations on four continents. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Leiden University honored this special day with a workshop on ‘Women Peace and Security’ and a panel discussion on the ‘Action for Peacekeeping’. This meant not only looking back on what has been achieved, but also looking forward to what could be improved in UN Peacekeeping.

Alana O’Malley, professor by special appointment on United Nations Studies in Peace and Justice, kicked-off the event and expressed her gratitude to the 380.000 men and women who serve and served in UN Missions. She then gave the word to Mr. Pieter Jan Kleiweg de Zwaan, Deputy General Political Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Kleiweg started by highlighting that UN peacekeeping missions are a key part of international relations. In fact, missions are getting bigger, with ever expanding mandates. However, he noted, there is also room for improvement. First, he pleaded for the implementation of rotation mechanisms, as this enables troop contributing countries to improve sharing the burden and planning processes. Second, mr. Kleiweg emphasized the importance of the role of women in peacekeeping operations, as this is key in achieving sustainable peace in peacekeeping missions and to make missions more effective.

Following this introduction, five students from Leiden University were given the stage to pitch their essay on the theme Women Peace and Security. In these excellent contributions, several creative recommendations were made to improve the integration of women in Peacekeeping Missions. After these pitches a winner was chosen.   

During the second part of the afternoon, a panel of experienced peacekeepers and experts debated about current issues and questions concerning UN Peacekeeping missions. The panel was moderated by Hester Somsen, Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s Security Policy Department, and consisted of:

  • Lt.Kol. Ronald Poetiray of the Ministry of Defence and former Deputy Chief of Staff Operations MINUSMA
  • Arthur Kibbelaar of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former political advisor in MINUSMA
  • Lt.Kol. Ella van den Heuvel of the Ministry of Defence and former gender advisor in UNIFIL
  • Welmoet Wels, former civilian expert Protection of Civilians UNMISS and MINUSMA.

In her introduction, Mrs. Somsen outlined the UN’s priorities for improving peacekeeping and asked the panelists to give a pitch on their view on how the Netherlands could contribute to more effective peacekeeping. Based on their wealth of experience, both civilian and military panelists agreed that Peacekeeping missions are predominantly civilian-led operations. The question remained however how to manage the different cogs in these complex missions and how to deal with cultural differences both within the mission, as well as in the area of operations. As one panelist argued, the mandate is sacred in this respect, but translating mandates to the situation on the ground remains a challenge. The discussion was further enhanced by active participation from students and other attendees, with questions on topics such as working with countries you might not trust, and if the mandate should be considered as a minimum, or a ceiling.

Afterwards, there was the opportunity for everyone to further exchange views on these subjects during drinks, thus concluding a very successful celebration of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

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