The story so far: A top United Nations (U.N.) official has lauded the Blue Helmet peacekeepers from India as well as other countries for thwarting an attack by an armed group in the Congo. Responding to a question by news agency PTI, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) armed group has been active in the last couple of weeks in an area in eastern DR Congo.
India has been among the largest troop-contributing countries to the U.N. peacekeeping missions. As of November 2021, India is the second-highest military (1,888) and fifth-highest (139) police-contributing country to the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
What is the U.N. Peacekeeping mission?
The U.N. Peacekeeping mission is a joint effort between the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Operational Support, and aims to assist host countries to transition from situations of conflict to peace.
The U.N. began its Peacekeeping efforts in 1948 when it deployed military observers to West Asia. The Peacekeeping mission’s role was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
U.N. Peacekeepers provide security as well as political and peacebuilding support to conflict-ridden countries.
The three basic principles that guide U.N.’s Peacekeeping missions are:
- Consent of the parties
- Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate
Who are the ‘Blue Helmets’?
Blue Helmets are the military personnel of the U.N. that work alongside the U.N. Police and civilian colleagues to promote “stability, security, and peace processes”. The personnel get the name from the iconic blue helmets or berets they wear.
All military personnel under Blue Helmets are members of their national armies first who are seconded to work under the U.N. command.
Currently, there are more than 70,000 military personnel enlisted as Blue Helmets. African and Asian countries outnumber their western counterparts in contributing soldiers to Blue Helmets.
What are the responsibilities of U.N. military personnel?
U.N. military personal can be tasked with:
- Protecting civilians and other U.N. personnel
- Monitoring disputed borders
- Observing peace processes in post-conflict areas
- Providing security in conflict zones
- Providing security during elections
- Assisting in-country military personnel with training and support
- Assisting ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements
How are Blue Helmets enlisted?
Qualified military officers from U.N. member states are recruited to serve as individual staff officers, military observers, or as part of units from an individual troop-contributing country, by the United Nations Office of Military Affairs. Staff officers are also deployed at the U.N. headquarters from where they monitor all aspects related to deployment of troops on the ground.
Blue Helmets are seconded to work under the U.N. flag for periods normally of up to one year in the field, or two or three years at the headquarters.
U.N. Peacekeeping has listed increasing the number of female military personnel as one of its top priorities.
What is United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) took over from a previous U.N. peacekeeping mission in the African country on July 1, 2010. MONUSCO aims to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders from the imminent threat of physical violence and to support the government of the country in its stabilisation and peace consolidation efforts.
Pakistan tops the military contributors chart towards MONUSCO, while Senegal leads in police contributors (based on data from November 2021).
What is India’s contribution towards United Nations Peacekeeping forces?
Over 200,000 Indians have served in 49 U.N. Peacekeeping missions since 1948. Currently, 5,581 Indians are part of various U.N. Peacekeeping missions.
In 2007, India became the first country to deploy an all-women contingent to a U.N. Peacekeeping mission.
Despite its presence in several countries as part of the Peacekeeping missions, India has routinely expressed its displeasure at a similar mission headquartered in Srinagar and Islamabad. The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was established on January 24, 1949 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan. UNMOGIP has remained in the region to observe hostilities between the neighbouring countries and report ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC).
India has reiterated that the mission has “outlived its relevance” after the Simla Agreement was signed by India and Pakistan in July 1972 and the establishment of the LoC.