From Jerusalem to Haiti: A look at peacekeeping through history

Special From Jerusalem to Haiti: A look at peacekeeping through history
Peacekeepers from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol the road between the southern Lebanese towns of Rmaish and Naqoura along the border between Lebanon and Israel on October 12, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 09 July 2024
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From Jerusalem to Haiti: A look at peacekeeping through history

From Jerusalem to Haiti: A look at peacekeeping through history
  • Since 1948 more than two million men and women have served under the UN flag in more than 70 peacekeeping operations
  • Cairo was the destination of a batch of 49 volunteers dispatched on June 19, 1948, to supervise Israel-Palestine truce

LONDON: At 6 p.m. on June 19, 1948, two chartered aircraft took off from La Guardia Airfield in New York State. On board were 49 volunteers, uniformed members of the UN guard force stationed at Lake Success, the temporary home of the fledgling UN on the north shore of Long Island.

Bound for Cairo, their ultimate destination was Palestine, where they would help to write the first chapter in the mottled history of UN peacekeeping efforts.

The small force, dispatched on the orders of Norwegian politician Trygve Lie, the first secretary-general of the UN, had been requested by Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator for Palestine.

Its role was to help Bernadotte to supervise the Israeli-Palestinian truce and, in the words of the UN press release at the time, it was “expected to be used primarily to supervise application of the truce provisions relating to the supply route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”




Jewish and Palestinian leaders and a representative of the United Nations talk to find an agreement regarding a cease-fire in Palestine in 1948. (Getty Images)

As the men boarded the two aircraft, Lie wished them “a pleasant voyage and a safe return,” shook each one of them by the hand and told them: “I am confident you will do your duty in the cause of peace.”

For the first but not the last time in the history of the UN, the organization was sending peacekeepers into impossible situations in which they would struggle to keep two warring factions apart, often at the cost of their own lives.

As the UN observed as it held its annual memorial service on June 6 this year: “Serving the cause of peace in a violent world is a dangerous occupation.”

Perhaps the most telling fact about the 76 years of UN peacekeeping operations is that that very first mission, which came to be known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization, has continued ever since, with the situation for which it was created still unresolved.

Since 1948 more than 2 million men and women have served under the UN flag in more than 70 peacekeeping operations, in which more than 4,300 of them have been killed. The UN says “their sacrifice on behalf of the international community is one of the most concrete expressions of the UN Charter’s determination ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.”




Smoke raises from the Old city of Jerusalem in August 1949, during the Arab–Israeli War. (AFP)

The first of those deaths occurred just over two weeks after the guards from Lake Success arrived in Palestine. On the evening of July 5, a French observer, Commandant Rene Labarriere, was fatally wounded in an explosion while returning from investigating an alleged violation of the truce provisions by Jewish forces.

Then, just over two months later, on Sept. 17, 1948, a cablegram arrived at the office of the UN secretary-general in New York.

It read: “Count Folke Bernadotte, United Nations mediator on Palestine, brutally assassinated by Jewish assailants of unknown identity, in planned, cold-blooded attack in the new city of Jerusalem.”

Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat who in 1945 had negotiated the release of 450 Danish Jews and 30,000 other prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, had been murdered by the Stern Gang, a group of Zionist terrorists.




Delegates of the UN Security Council gathered at the Palais de Chaillot, in Paris, on September 18, 1948, pay a silent tribute to assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte. (AFP)

Since then, in a blizzard of acronyms, the UN has launched no fewer than 72 peacekeeping missions around the world, often at great cost to the participating nations and, at times, to the UN leadership itself.

In 1961 Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and 15 others died in a plane crash in the Congo while on a peace mission as part of the UN Operation in the Congo.

Three decades later, the growing number and scale of UN peacekeeping missions in the 1990s “put many more at risk,” the organization acknowledges — more lives were lost in that decade than in the previous four combined. Since the early 2000s there have consistently been more than 100 deaths every year among peacekeepers.

In the new millennium, the UN itself became a target.

On Aug. 19, 2003, the headquarters of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in Baghdad’s Canal Hotel was hit by a truck bomb that killed 22 people, including the then High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello. Most of the UN’s 600 personnel were withdrawn from Iraq after the attack.




UN cars are piled in a field on August 23, 2003, next to the destroyed United Nations headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad. (AFP)

Other attacks against UN missions followed, claiming dozens of lives in Algiers in 2007 and Kabul in 2009.

Occasionally, UN peacekeeping missions are marred by terrible ironies and unintended consequences. In 2010 more than 20 members of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti died in the devastating earthquake that hit the country, killing as many as 300,000 people.

It emerged later through genomic testing that the cholera epidemic that followed the earthquake, claiming tens of thousands of more lives, had most likely originated among the Nepali members of the peacekeeping force.

In 2016 the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, apologized, saying: “We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role.”




In 2010 more than 20 members of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti died in the devastating earthquake that hit the country. (AFP)

Today, there are 11 UN peacekeeping missions underway around the world — five in Africa, one in India and Pakistan (since 1949), one in Kosovo (1999), one in Cyprus (1964), one in the Golan (UNIFIL, since 1978) and the very first, in Palestine (UNTSO).

Since 1948 the UNTSO mission has suffered 52 fatalities. As of March 2024, there were 998 UN personnel deployed, headquartered at Government House, Jerusalem.

UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) was originally created in March 1978 to “confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area.” That mandate has since been adjusted twice.

Following the Israeli-Hezbollah war in July and August 2006, the Security Council enhanced the force and charged it with monitoring the cessation of hostilities, a mission that since 1978 has cost the lives of 334 personnel from many countries.

Today, over 10,000 troops are deployed, based in Naqoura, Lebanon, supplied mainly by Indonesia, India, Italy, Ghana, Nepal, Malaysia, and Spain.




A UNIFIL patrol drives past the wreckage of a car that was targeted in an Israeli strike early on March 2, 2024, near the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura. (AFP)

Whether the UN’s peacekeeping endeavors have saved lives is open to debate. Certainly, the UN believes they have.

It says that peacekeeping, based on three basic principles — consent of the parties, impartiality, and “non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate” — has proved to be “one of the most effective tools available to the UN to assist host countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.”

Studies show, it says, that “more UN peacekeepers in conflict areas means fewer civilian deaths, less violence and a higher chance at lasting peace.”

But not always.

One of the darkest episodes in the history of UN peacekeeping occurred in 1994, after the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda had been sent to implement a peace agreement between the Hutu government and the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front, which had been fighting since 1990. It fell apart in April 1994, when an aircraft carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi crashed in mysterious circumstances, triggering a tidal wave of political and ethnic killings.

The UN peacekeepers largely stood by as more than 800,000 Tutsis were massacred. The commander of the UN mission, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, later published a damning critique of the under-resourced and under-manned mission that had ended in disaster.




Government soldiers stand by on June 18, 1994, as some Tutsi refugees are evacuated by UN soldiers from the Mille Collines hotel in Kigali, which had been attacked 17 June by Hutu militiamen. (AFP)

“Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda” included an account of the murder of 10 Belgian paratroopers Dallaire had assigned to protect Rwanda's prime minister.

One year later, disaster struck again in Srebrenica, an enclave of 60,000 Bosnian Muslims within Bosnia and Herzegovina which the UN had declared to be an internationally protected “safe area.”

The UN Protection Force assigned to protect the enclave was a 370-strong Dutch battalion which, badly prepared and outnumbered, failed to prevent the genocidal massacre of over 8,000 men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops.

A Dutch investigation later concluded the Netherlands and the UN had failed to do their duty. It accused the government and the military leadership of the Netherlands of criminal negligence.




A peacekeeper from the Netherlands posing at the Charlie chekpoint in Srebrenica on April 1995. (AFP)

The UN has, however, claimed successes for its peacemaking operations. In 1988 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN peacekeeping forces which had “under extremely difficult conditions, contributed to reducing tensions where an armistice has been negotiated but a peace treaty has yet to be established.”

The UN forces, the citation continued, “represent the manifest will of the community of nations to achieve peace through negotiations, and the forces have, by their presence, made a decisive contribution toward the initiation of actual peace negotiations.”

Occasionally, the UN has felt obliged to defend the reputation of its peacekeeping missions and in 2022 commissioned an independent review of its work by Lise Howard, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University in Washington.

“Failures on the part of UN peacekeeping missions have been highly publicized and well documented — and rightly so,” commented the UN at the time.

“But if you look at the overall picture and crunch the data, a different and ultimately positive picture emerges.”




Members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) take part in a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of their presence on the eastern Mediterranean island, on March 4, 2024. (AFP)

Howard reviewed 16 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that in the majority of cases the Blue Helmets had significantly reduced civilian casualties, shortened conflicts and helped to make peace agreements stick.

“Most of the time peacekeeping works,” Howard said on the publication in 2022 of her findings in the book “Power in Peacekeeping.”

In a video released by the UN, she said: “If we look at the completed missions since the end of the Cold War, two-thirds of the time peacekeepers have been successful at implementing their mandates and departing.

“That’s not to say that in all of those cases everything is perfect in the countries. But it is to say that they’re no longer at war.”

 


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024
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Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
Updated 20 July 2024
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Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
Updated 51 min 54 sec ago
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.


Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt
Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt
  • Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention

GRAND RAPIDS:Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago and fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented.
Trump will appear in Grand Rapids, in the battleground state of Michigan, along with his new vice presidential pick, Ohio US Senator J.D. Vance. It will be their first campaign event together as the now official Republican presidential ticket.
Republican Party officials said during Trump’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this week that his brush with death last Saturday had changed him, and that when he made his acceptance speech on Thursday night he would call for national unity.
While Trump began the address with a call for unity and national healing, much of his speech was his well-known list of grievances and attacks on opponents.
It is unclear what type of a speech Trump will deliver on Saturday, but his diehard supporters typically flock to such events to hear Trump’s more traditional inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention. In contrast, the Democrats are in turmoil and it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden is facing mounting calls from many elected officials in his own party to step aside as the party’s White House candidate and to end his re-election bid, after his poor debate performance against Trump last month.
Biden is trailing in opinion polls and is behind in every swing state against Trump. Many Democrats fear he may have virtually no path to victory and that the party needs a new presidential candidate to take on Trump.
The rally in Grand Rapids will be in an indoor arena, unlike the event in Butler, Pennsylvania last weekend, which was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The US Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
“The Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used for our protective operations,” the agency said in a statement.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”