President Kennedy said:
Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
I’m sure peace and the breaking down of barriers were very much in the minds of the 51 member states that made up the original membership of The United Nations, which officially came into existence on the 24 October 1945 when the Charter was ratified. United Nations Day is celebrated on this date each year and now 72 years later the organization has grown from 51 to 193 member states (2011). The central mission of the UN is maintaining International peace and security. Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” Working in areas to prevent conflict the United Nations Peacekeeping role is central to the cause. Creating an environment where peace can flourish and be maintained by guiding warring parties to a way forward through understanding and peaceful negotiations. The outcome is often uncertain and the desired on outcome may not be achieved. This does not mean the United Nations peacekeeping is not effective or relevant.
Australia is one of the founding UN member states and has certainly played its part and suffered its share of loss and grief in the service of peace. To date 73 ADF and Police personnel have died in UN operations. This year 2017 we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first Australian peacekeeper to participate in the world’s first peacekeeping mission to Dutch East Indies in 1947. In 1965 during my own deployment with the Irish 42nd Infantry Battalion in Cyprus we were professionally supported by the Australian Federal Police. It was my first time meeting an Australian and over a many beers I heard stories about Bondi Beach and the Australian outback. I immigrated to Australia some 5 years later and have always acknowledged my meeting with the Aussie Police in 1965 being a prime reason for me being a proud Aussie today. The Australian peacekeepers are still deployed on the island of Cyprus. The Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans Association (APPVA) states that nearly 90,000 Australians have been deployed in peacekeeping roles on 75 Operations, in 65 different countries, for nearly 70 years. In September 2017 the Australians 70 years of UN peacemaking operations, past and present will be acknowledged with the unveiling of a special monument on Anzac Parade Canberra. I would like to commend the APPVA on their work to support other veterans who have fallen on difficult times and encourage present and ex-service personnel to join the association.
The struggle for peace through non-violence especially in the early years had its challenges and sometimes at a huge personal cost. My own country of birth, Ireland had maintained neutrality during WW2 and was seen as the ideal UN member state to be deployed on peacekeeping mission to the Congo in 1960. The question of UN forces not being an “enforcement tool” except in self-defence was turned on its head during the United Nations Mission in the Congo. Irish academic David O’Donoghue wrote that it was a “confused and chaotic affair”. The first UN troops arrived in the Congo in July 1960 and it wasn’t until February 1961 that the United Nations Security Council explicitly authorized the use of force for purposes beyond self-defence. The Niemba Ambush in November 1960 alone cost the lives of 9 Irish soldiers and the courage showed at the siege of Jadotville is legendary. The total loss of Irish troops during the 4 yr mission was 26 dead and many more injured. The United Nations Force remained in the Congo between 1960 and 1964 and underwent a transition from a peacekeeping presence to a military force.
Today the UN peacekeepers are still serving but in a very different world. The years post the “cold –war” had its own challenges and now we have a war against terrorism which brings new challenges uncertainty in our decision making. Irrespective of changes the United Nations peacekeepers are still very much part of the global quest for peace through non-violence. Chaos and confusion still occur at times as it did in the 1960es. This is in spite of the fact that we have much more sophisticated communications and advanced technology. Peacekeeping is a project, a work in progress and working around the world with such a diversity of cultures, religions, and Governments there is not a one size fits all fix. There is no manual or roadmap that guarantees 100% success in every instance. The core principle of the United Nations again states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and while we remain committed to this principle we will prosper and continue to be relevant as a major player in the struggle for world peace.
Eleanor Roosevelt said.
It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
So, in conclusion, we acknowledge the men and women who have served the United Nations in all areas of peacekeeping and human rights. We remember the thousands who made the “supreme sacrifice” and their families. We should recommit to the support of the present executive and various committees of the United Nations Organizations in their efforts to continue the great work of the past 72 years.