UN Peacekeepers Killed In Civil Wars, Where Nothing Is Civil – OpEd

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The UN’s peacekeepers and its humanitarian workers are increasingly victims of killings in war zones—in the midst of civil wars and military conflicts.

As a former UN Secretary-General once famously remarked:  there is nothing civil about civil wars, where hundreds have been killed mostly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

At least 11 United Nations personnel—seven military personnel and four civilians — were killed in deliberate attacks in 2023, the United Nations Staff Union Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service, said on 7 May.

This does not include the personnel of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) who died in the conflict in Gaza, since they were not deliberately targeted.

“However, 142 UNRWA personnel—doctors, teachers, engineers and support staff—had been confirmed killed as at the end of 2023 (UNRWA Situation Report #59) in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in response to terror attacks by Hamas on 7 October—the largest loss during a conflict in the 78-year history of the United Nations.”

In addition, on 22 December, a staff member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Issam Al Mughrabi, along with his wife and their five children, were killed in an Israeli air strike near Gaza City.

Addressing reporters last month, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “Frankly, our peacekeepers are at risk in every mission that they operate. We saw it in Mali before the mission closed with a horrendous level of fatalities among peacekeepers. We’ve seen it in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve seen it in South Sudan. We’ve seen it in the Central African Republic”.

UN peacekeepers, he said, represent the will of the international community to bring peace to a stabilized situation. It is outrageous that they are targeted in any way, shape or form by any party.

Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, said during last year’s International Day of UN peacekeepers on May 29, the United States reaffirms its enduring commitment to UN peacekeepers and recognizes their indispensable role in addressing shared threats to international peace and security.

UN peacekeeping is important to advancing peace

Since the first mission in 1948, he said, UN peacekeeping has proven to be remarkably important to advancing the cause for peace. Its core objective is what we strive to deliver: To help countries move from conflict to sustainable peace.

“The United States is the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping over the last 75 years. We also provide training and equipment to help partners develop key enabling capabilities and invest heavily in long-term bilateral capacity-building partnerships essential to mission success through efforts such as the Global Peace Operations Initiative.”

The United States invests in peacekeeping because it works, he pointed out.

“Data from the last seven decades show that peacekeeping reduces violence, contains civil wars, brings leaders to the table, and increases the odds of lasting peace. Peacekeeping is a shared responsibility that benefits all nations and peoples, and the United States will continue to be its leading proponent”.

Meanwhile, the UN Staff Union said for the tenth year in a row, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was the deadliest for peacekeepers with five fatalities, followed by one fatality in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and one fatality in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

By nationality, the peacekeepers who died in 2023 were from Senegal (3), Burkina Faso (2), Rwanda (1) and South Africa (1).  The civilians who died were from Jordan (1) and Sudan (3); all worked for the World Food Programme (WFP).

In 2022, at least 32 United Nations personnel (28 military and four police) were killed in malicious attacks, and in 2021 at least 25 (one civilian and 24 peacekeepers).

A non-exhaustive list of deliberate attacks in 2023

Following is a non-exhaustive list of deliberate attacks in 2023 which resulted in the death or injury of United Nations and associated personnel, compiled by the United Nations Staff Union Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.

On 5 February, Vusimusi Joseph Mabena, a peacekeeper and flight engineer from South Africa serving with MONUSCO, was killed and another wounded after the helicopter he was travelling in came under fire after taking off from the city of Beni, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The badly injured pilot managed to land the aircraft in Goma airport.

On 21 February, Eugene Idrissa Badhyne Mingou, Ousseynou Diallo and Pierre Tama Boubane, three peacekeepers from Senegal serving with MINUSMA, were killed and five others seriously injured when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED).  The incident took place near the village of Songobia, in central Mali, as their supply convoy was heading to its base in Sévaré.

On 15 April, Osman Ali, Siddig Mohammed and Yousif Elzain, three WFP employees from Sudan, were killed in violence in Kabkabiya, North Darfur, Sudan, the day conflict broke out across the country.  Two other WFP employees were injured in the same incident.  They all were in a remote area delivering emergency cash assistance to vulnerable people.

On 9 June, Bouma Bamouni, a peacekeeper from Burkina Faso serving with MINUSMA, was killed and Ali Barro, a peacekeeper also from Burkina Faso serving with MINUSMA, was seriously wounded in an attack by an improvised explosive device followed by direct small arms fire against a MINUSMA patrol, seven kilometres from the Mission’s base in Ber, Timbuktu region.

Seven other peacekeepers from the same contingent were injured. Mr Barro died from his injuries on 11 June. Also on 9 June, MINUSMA reported that at least 303 Mission personnel had been killed in hostile acts in Mali since the start of the Mission in 2013, making it the deadliest United Nations peacekeeping mission in the world. On 30 June, the Security Council approved the withdrawal of MINUSMA from Mali.

On 6 July, presumed Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel) militants attacked a MINUSMA convoy near Ouatagouna town, Gao region, killing three civilians and wounding 14 people, including three peacekeepers.

On 10 July, Eustace Tabaro, a peacekeeper from Rwanda serving with MINUSCA, was killed in an attack by armed elements against a MINUSCA patrol on the Sam-Ouandja-Ouadda axis, Haute-Kotto prefecture in north-eastern Central African Republic.

On 21 July, Moayad Hameidi, a national of Jordan and the head of WFP’s office in Taiz, Yemen, was killed when unknown gunmen fired on WFP staff members in the town of Al-Turbah, Taiz governorate, south-western Yemen.  Another staff member was injured.

On 18 August, an assault against peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) by Turkish Cypriot security personnel resulted in injuries to the peacekeepers and damage to UN vehicles.  The assault took place inside the buffer zone near Pyla/Pile as the peacekeepers were preventing unauthorized construction work in the area, in accordance with their mandate.

On 4 November, 22 MINUSMA peacekeepers in a convoy withdrawing from a rebel stronghold in northern Mali were injured when their vehicles hit improvised explosive devices on two occasions.  There had been six incidents since the peacekeepers left their base in Kidal, Mali, on 31 October, injuring at least 39 peacekeepers.

On 24 January, the Bamako, Mali, Court of Assizes, sitting in terrorism matters, held a trial relating to the attack on five peacekeepers on the road to Siby (near Bamako) on 22 February 2019, which led to the death of three of the peacekeepers.  The court convicted the accused of acts of terrorism, criminal association, murder, robbery and illegal possession of firearms, and imposed the death penalty, which has not been carried out since 1980 due to a moratorium on executions since then.

On 5 February, the Government of Mali declared Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali, the Director of the Human Rights Division of MINUSMA and representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as persona non grata.  The Secretary-General deeply regretted that action on 7 February. 

Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen, author of the book “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” is Editor-at-Large at the Berlin-based IDN, an ex-UN staffer and a former member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he shared the gold medal twice (2012-2013) for excellence in UN reporting awarded by the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).

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