27 May 2005
As the United Nations commemorates the third International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May, paying tribute to those who serve in peacekeeping operations, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) are also being honoured for their dedication and courage in helping improve the lives of millions of people in war-torn and post-conflict countries across the globe.
More than 1,800 UN Volunteers are currently supporting UN peacekeeping operations in 11 countries worldwide: Afghanistan (UNAMA), Burundi (UNOB), Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), Haiti (MINUSTAH), Ivory Coast (UNOCI), Kosovo (UNMIK), Liberia (UNMIL), Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Sudan (UNMIS), and Timor-Leste (UNMISET). They constitute nearly 30 per cent of all international civilian staff, where they work in over 100 functional categories, from human rights officers to supply managers, and electoral observers to press officers.
In addition to providing much needed skills to assist and complement the UN in meeting ever growing peacekeeping demands, UN Volunteers bring a high-level of team spirit to mission operations and often mobilize civilian staff and local communities to volunteer in local initiatives. In Liberia for instance, UN Volunteers organized a charity walkathon in the capital to collect funds and raise support for an income generation project of an association of people living with HIV/AIDS.
“UN Volunteers go beyond their regular scope of duties to bond with communities and build support for the presence of the mission,” says UNV Executive Coordinator Ad de Raad. “Through the promotion of volunteerism, they make solid steps at healing the wounds caused by war, and at the same time channel their energies towards promoting reconciliation and peace.”
He adds: “We know the UN Department of Peacekeeping (DPKO) appreciates the philosophy of UNV in terms of mobilizing qualified men and women who combine professional competence and experience with the dedication and motivation associated with volunteerism.”
In the past year, UN Volunteers received global recognition for their involvement in successful peacekeeping and political missions. As part of the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), which officially ended in December 2004 after a decade of verifying human rights and helping the country implement its peace accords, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lauded the involvement of the 430 UN Volunteers. He also paid tribute to the 60 Guatemalan UN Volunteers who, in the last year of the mission, were tasked with preparing communities and partner organizations for the transition and departure of MINUGUA. Working closely with counterparts in government, civil society organizations and human rights institutions, the UN Volunteers played a vital role in ensuring that the acquired knowledge, including the value of volunteerism in protecting and promoting human rights, is retained and continues to serve the population.
And in Afghanistan, 600 UN Volunteers were part of the concerted international effort in 2004 to register and process some 10 million voter applications in preparation of the country’s first democratic presidential election. They were placed in each province as field coordinators and registration supervisors, as well as provided logistical support on the technical and administrative side of the registration activities. UN Volunteers are now engaged in similar tasks in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia as elections are anticipated in each respective country in the coming months.
Background to UN Volunteers and peacekeeping
The UNV programme’s involvement in peacekeeping dates back to 1992, when 21 UN Volunteers assisted the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC). Succeeding this effort, 700 UN Volunteers later staffed the successor mission, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), both with electoral and technical support. Since then, UNV has deployed UN Volunteers in nearly all UN peacekeeping operations.
UNV’s largest operation to date was in Timor-Leste, where more than 2,000 UN Volunteers assisted the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). At present, nearly 60 UN Volunteers remain in the country, helping conclude the UN Mission of Support in Timor-Leste (UNMISET), which officially ended last week after three-years of providing assistance following the country’s independence in May 2002.
The current largest deployment of UN Volunteers, more than 550, is with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).