The UN Peacekeeping Mission completed 75 years of its existence in 2023. Data reveals that more than 70 peacekeeping missions were deployed by the UN during this period. More than 4.3 thousand personnel belonging to various countries lost their lives during these 75 years. India lost 179 of its personnel in these missions, the most for any nation.
More than 30 countries are currently in conflict, with the type and severity of conflict varying widely. The duration that these countries are in conflict also varies, with each of them having a significant impact on the affected population, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations (UN) is at the forefront of maintaining peace in the world and plays an important role in conflict prevention, using diplomacy, mediation, and other actions to help nations prevent and resolve conflicts peacefully. Since its inception, the UN was involved in resolving conflict in many countries and actively engaged with these in maintaining peace. As such, the United Nations Peacekeeping by the UN’s Department of Peace Operations is an instrument developed by the UN to help countries torn by conflict to create conditions for lasting peace.
A key role of Peacekeeping is to monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist the respective nations and authorities in implementing the peace agreements they might have signed. The assistance is in various forms – electoral assistance, strengthening the rule of law, economic & social development, power-sharing arrangements, etc. This is enabled through peacekeeping missions. The peacekeeping personnel as part of such missions include soldiers, police officers and civilian personnel.
Because of the conditions in which the peacekeeping operations function, there is a higher exposure to various risks which could result in fatalities. What have been the trends in fatalities over the years of the various UN Peace Keeping Missions? Which regions are more prone to cause fatalities? Here is an analysis of the fatalities in UN Peace Keeping operations since its inception.
Increase in number of fatalities in the recent decades
The first Peace Keeping Mission was in the year 1948, when the UN authorized a mission to monitor the agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours, officially known as United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Since then, there have been more than 70 peacekeeping missions deployed by the UN. As per the latest data available as on 31 May 2023, there have been more than 4.3 thousand fatalities in UN peace Keeping missions since 1948.
The trends have varied over the years, accentuated by individual years of higher number of fatalities. The first time that the number of fatalities was more than a hundred was in 1961, with 155 peacekeeping personnel killed in that year. This figure was overtaken in 1993 when there were 252 fatalities. This continues to be the year with the greatest number of fatalities.
While the yearly fatalities have not been more than that in 1993, there is an increase in the frequency of the years with more than 100 fatalities in a year. Before 1990, the year 1961 was the only year with more than 100 fatalities. In the next decade (1990 to 2000), there were 3 such years. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 7 such years. In the next decade i.e., 2011 to 2020, the number of fatalities crossed 100 in every year except in 2018. Even in that year, the number of fatalities was 99. This trend continued even in the current decade.
Peace Keeping Missions in Lebanon and Mali among the deadliest in history
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) established in 1978 accounts for the highest number of fatalities. The mission is an ongoing mission, and since its establishment has resulted in 330 fatalities. The mission was established to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and its mandate has been revised twice. The continued conflict in the area resulting in a civil war and other incidents has resulted in the mission being continued with a revised mandate.
Here is a quick look at a few other missions with higher fatalities:
- United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), was established in 2013 to stabilize the country post an internal rebellion that resulted in more than 300 fatalities. This mission is terminated very recently on 30 June 2023.
- Another mission in Africa, African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was established in 2007 to bring stability to the war-torn Dafur region of Sudan. It is one of the missions wherein the Peacekeepers were allowed to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian operations. It is the first joint UN and African Union (AU) and the largest peacekeeping mission. The mission whose mandate ended in December 2020 has resulted in the deaths of 295 Peacekeeping personnel.
- United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), has resulted in the deaths of 261 UN Peacekeeping personnel. It is a peacekeeping force that was established to monitor the peace process of the Second Congo War in 1999 and continues to have its presence in the region.
- Another mission in the Congo region i.e., United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) has the next highest number of fatalities. The mission was deployed in 1960 as a response to the Congo crisis. It is the first UN Peace Keeping Mission with significant military capabilities and is one of the largest UN operations in terms of size and scope.
Apart from these missions, two other missions UNPROFOR and UNMIL also have resulted in fatalities of more than 200 each. Nine other missions have more than 100 (and less than 200) fatalities each.
The majority of the missions with the highest fatalities are in African countries followed by Middle East and East European nations, reflecting the conflict situations in these regions over the decades.
Highest number of fatalities are of Military personnel
Peacekeeping Missions include various personnel – military personnel, police, civilians, etc. performing various roles in the mission. A majority of the peacekeeping missions involve the use of armed personnel of the UN and other countries involved in peacekeeping operations, to ensure law and order are maintained post-conflict.
Further, armed forces are on-ground personnel who are closer to the conflict. Nearly 70% of the fatalities across various peacekeeping missions over the years are military personnel. Nearly 2.98 thousand military personnel died in peacekeeping missions over the years. Among the other personnel involved in peacekeeping operations, the next greatest fatalities are of international civilians followed by Police. A further 95 personnel sent as military observers also died as part of the missions. Fatalities as part of peacekeeping missions also include 525 locals. Nearly 95% of the fatalities are males.
Sub-continent nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have the highest casualties
Among various countries, India lost the greatest number of its nationals in Peace Keeping Missions. A total of 179 Indians have lost their lives as part of these UN missions. Mission ONUC mentioned above has resulted in 39 Indian fatalities.
Pakistan and Bangladesh account for the next highest number of casualties with 169 and 166 respectively. In the case of Pakistan, the mission in Somalia i.e., UNOSM has resulted in 40 deaths.
Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia are among the African countries with the highest number of fatalities. Personnel from these countries were involved in various missions in the neighbouring African countries. Peacekeeping operations in Balkan republics (post-Yugoslavia) like UNPROFOR have resulted in the highest number of fatalities for other European countries like France and the UK.
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