28 May 2021

By Camille Miguet / GICJ

Source: peacekeeping.un.org
Only a collective commitment to strengthen peacekeeping will make United Nations missions stronger, safer and more relevant”, March 29th 2021, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.


May 29 was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers by its Resolution A/RES/57/19 adopted in December 2002[1]. This day highlights the crucial role of all peacekeepers in maintaining international peace and security all around the world.

Source: un.org

United Nations and maintenance of international peace and security

Peacekeeping operations are a true innovation of the United Nations as they had not been initially foreseen by the Charter of San Francisco. Indeed, the possibility to use force is very limited by the jus ad bellum and the use of armed force is prohibited in principle according to article 2§4 of the UN Charter[2]. The use of force could be authorized under article 42 and article 43 which provided for the availability of a UN army that could intervene in military operations. However, this possibility was never used because of the tense context in the Security Council at the beginning of the Cold War. Due to the division of the world into hostile camps, peacekeeping agreements were extremely difficult to negotiate.

Therefore, peacekeeping operations were born out of practice, carried out by contingents of UN member states. The troops serve under UN operational command, but the peacekeepers remain members of their respective armed forces. These operations addressed the unanticipated difficulties posed by article 42. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council has the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security and can authorize peacekeeping operations. The Security Council can also authorize regional organizations to undertake peacekeeping tasks.


Who are UN peacekeepers?

Peacekeepers are multinational forces composed of national personnel under the authority of the UN as the UN does not have any army. They are women or men, civilians, military or police officers who serve the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security. They share the goal of protecting the most vulnerable and providing support to countries in transition from war to peace. As a subsidiary body of the UN, the blue helmets embody the presence of the international community in a conflict zone and act as observers or as an interposition force. 

The first UN peacekeepers were deployed in 1948 in the Middle East to observe and maintain the ceasefire during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This UN peacekeeping mission was established on 29 May 1948 when the Security Council authorized the UN Truce Supervision Organisation to monitor the Armistice Agreement. Since the creation of this first UN peacekeeping operation, 72 missions have been carried out, of which 12 are currently active. In 2020, about 90, 000 troops from 120 different countries were participating in one of the current peacekeeping operations around the world.

Basic principles of peacekeeping operations

These principles are crucial in the process of regulating peacekeeping operations since they offer important guidance as to how a power balance among different stakeholders can be achieved in the conflict at hand. As peacekeepers become combatants, the basic principles for peacekeeping must be respected in order to legitimise the operation. These principles are consent of parties, impartiality and the limited use of force[3]. Any peacekeeping operation can be deployed without state consent. The operation must implement its mandate without favour or prejudice to any party. Peacekeepers may use force at the tactical level but their right to use self-defence is recognised, as well as their right to defend the mandate. Member states and NGOs play an important role in ensuring that all personnel are prepared and accountable for their conduct during UN peacekeeping operations and that disciplinary action is taken for misconduct. Ensuring that all peacekeepers are held to the highest standards of conduct is essential in order to protect local populations and to maintain operational effectiveness.

Therefore, the issues of human rights violations and international security are closely interlinked and thus, the protection and promotion of human rights have become an urgent issue in current peacekeeping operations. In addition to the rules of conduct, peacekeepers must also respect international human rights and humanitarian law[4].


International day of UN peacekeepers