On 25-26 June 2023, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the current Under-Secretary-General (USG) of the United Nations (UN) for Peace Operations, visited Bangladesh. During the visit, he met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Minister and State Minister of Foreign Affairs, the chiefs of Bangladesh Army, Navy and Air Force and the head of Bangladesh Police.
Also, he attended a preparatory discussion for the 2023 UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, which is scheduled to be held in Ghana on 5-6 December 2023. This was the first time the current head of UN peace operations visited Bangladesh, so the visit itself contained symbolic value for the country. However, apart from symbolic significance, Lacroix’s visit to Bangladesh is important for both Bangladesh and UN peacekeeping in several other aspects.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Pierre Lacroix assured that he would give special consideration to the recruitment of more peacekeepers from Bangladesh.
Lacroix made the assurance when he met then acting army chief Lt Gen Ataul Hakim Sarwar Hasan at the military headquarters in Dhaka. The army chief requested the visiting UN under-secretary-general to recruit more Bangladeshi peacekeepers for the peacekeeping missions.
Lacroix highly praised the contribution of Bangladeshi peacekeepers engaged in the UN missions and assured that he would give special consideration to the recruitment of more peacekeepers from Bangladesh. He also thanked Bangladesh and especially the Bangladesh Army for sending the highest number of peacekeepers for a long time. During the meeting, the appointment of Bangladeshis and especially women peacekeepers for important appointments in future peacekeeping missions was also discussed. Bangladesh has been in a leading position in the dynamic trend, which the United Nations has developed in peacekeeping missions over the past few decades. Bangladesh has also been standing as the number one country for sending peacekeepers for the past few years. The number of members sent from Bangladesh is increasing every year. Bangladesh is also in a strong position in decision-making posts in peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh is currently the top troop-contributing country (TCC) for UN peace operations. In total, 188,558 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, including 2,728 female peacekeepers, have served in 63 UN operations in 40 states since 1988. Currently, 7,436 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, including 572 female peacekeepers, are participating in UN peace operations across 13 states.
So far, 167 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been killed and 259 have been wounded during UN operations. Thus, Bangladesh has made a huge contribution to the protection and promotion of international peace, security, solidarity and human rights. Moreover, Bangladesh is among the handful of countries of the Global South which are willing to send their troops and policemen to conflict zones under the banner of the UN.
While most of the states in the Global North as well as Global South, including great powers such as the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), have largely skirted the responsibility to shoulder the physical burden of UN peacekeeping, Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been risking their lives and health to maintain peace, provide security and fulfil the humanitarian needs of the people of conflict-ridden countries, such as Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.
At present, Bangladeshi peacekeepers are serving diligently in Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon and other warzones, donning the ‘blue helmets’ of the UN.
Lacroix’s visit to Bangladesh at the initiative of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) itself is a sign of the recognition of Bangladesh’s important role in keeping international peace. And during his meeting with the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, the UN peacekeeping head lavished praises on Bangladeshi peacekeepers.
The UN would remain dependent on the few traditional providers of peacekeepers, such as Bangladesh, for conducting future peace operations. Since Bangladesh has not demonstrated any inclination to curtail its participation in UN peacekeeping so far, the country remains a reliable source for the recruitment of UN peacekeepers. Given the circumstances, Lacroix’s visit to Bangladesh was partially motivated by the desire on the part of the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) to keep this source of peacekeepers intact. In fact, during his meeting with the chief of Bangladesh Army, Lacroix commented that the UN would give special consideration to recruit more Bangladeshi peacekeepers.
The course of international politics has been taking an increasingly unpredictable and complicated turn since the previous decade. The intensification of the strategic competition among great powers, the proliferation of authoritarianism and identity politics, the rise of extreme nationalism and religious fundamentalism across the world, and the global geopoliticalscramble for natural resources, coupled with the negative effects of global environmental degradation, have already resulted in the outbreak of numerous armed conflicts, and are likely to generate more conflicts in future. Amidst such circumstances, if the UN desires to remain a viable, dependable and responsible world body, it will have no choice but to introduce new peace operations in order to protect international peace, security and the lives of civilians. And for executing those peace operations, a large number of peacekeepers will be required.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers have so far served the UN professionally, diligently and dutifully. This factor, in addition to Dhaka’s reliability as a provider of peacekeepers, is going to keep Bangladesh an important part of the UN’s future peace operations. So, the visit of Lacroix is indicative of the UN’s confidence in Bangladeshi peacekeepers, and it is likely to pave the way for further cooperation between them in future.
Finally, the visit of the UN peacekeeping tsar to Bangladesh contains an important political message. Just before Lacroix’s visit, the influential New York-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the UN in general and Lacroix in particular to conduct a rigorous screening of the human rights record of Bangladeshi peacekeepers before their deployment in UN operations. However, the UN already has a mechanism for screening peacekeepers in place. In addition, the record of Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers has been largely clean so far. Furthermore, there are a number of TCCs which are ruled by military-controlled or military-influenced governments and/or whose armed forces have been accused of serious human rights violations, but the aforementioned HRW report has conveniently ignored those facts and unfairly targeted Bangladesh.
However, Lacroix not only visited Bangladesh but also commended the role of Bangladeshi peacekeepers. Moreover, there are no indications that the UN is going to act in accordance with the propositions of the HRW. This demonstrates that the UN has showed its faith in the professionalism, dutifulness and diligence of Bangladeshi peacekeepers.
Bangladesh’s three-decades-long participation in UN peacekeeping has been a source of national pride and prestige for Bangladeshi people. It has earned Bangladesh the title of ‘a model member of the UN.’ Through their courage, dedication and determination in fulfilling their international duties, Bangladeshi peacekeepers have earned the respect of the international community and acted as ‘live’ instruments of soft power for Bangladesh.
The recent visit of the UN peacekeeping chief to Bangladesh indicates that the partnership between the UN DPO and Dhaka is strong and durable, and Bangladeshi ‘Blue Helmets’ are going to fulfil their international responsibilities by continuing to serve in UN peace operations.