UN Peacekeeping: Italy, other UE countries, will keep blue helmets in place despite COVID-19

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NEW YORK, APRIL 8 – In a letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ambassadors from the 27 European Union Member States underlined their collective commitment to keeping UN Peacekeeping personnel in place despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading to every corner of the world, the most fragile regions suffering or recovering from armed conflicts and humanitarian crises will be put under particular strains. United Nations peace operations in these contexts will need to be able to continue their operations to support the host countries in this especially challenging time”, said the Ambassadors commending the efforts carried out by the United Nations so far to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers and the continuity of peace operations, as well as the humanitarian response to the pandemic. “In this context, we fully support and endorse your call for a global humanitarian ceasefire”, added the 27 Permanent Representatives, including Italy’s Ambassador, Mariangela Zappia.

Italy, the European country most seriously hit by the virus, is also the Western largest troop contributor to UN peace operations, with about 1,000 “blue helmets” deployed in Southern Lebanon and with other missions. In the European Union, most of the countries contribute military, police and correction personnel to the UN, or are host country to a UN peace operation.

The letter was in reaction of Guterres’ April 7 announcement that the UN has suspended until June 30 the rotation and deployments of uniformed personnel, including individual officers and already-formed, police and military peacekeeping units, because of the novel coronavirus. “Everyone is concerned by this crisis. Our colleagues in the Department of Peace Operations and Department of [Operational] Support are doing their utmost to mitigate the spread of COVID‑19 to our peacekeeping missions with also mitigating the impact on our ability to do work, and that really… that’s a principle that applies across the board in the UN”, Guterres’ spokeperson Stephane Dujarric said in today’s meeting.

“Our priorities are to ensure the COVID-19-free status of incoming uniformed personnel and mitigate the risk that UN peacekeepers could be a contagion vector and simultaneously maintain our operational capabilities,” Dujarric explained. “A few, limited exceptions may be considered to continue to deliver on the mandate, but only in extenuating circumstances on the basis of strict conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”

“We deploy uniformed personnel to both UN Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions”, said the 27 Ambassadors in their letter: “We would like to underline that, despite the strain the pandemic is putting on our own systems, we stay more committed than ever to the work the peacekeepers are carrying out throughout the world. As troops and police contributing countries, to the greatest extent possible under the current circumstances, we collectively commit to retaining our military, police and corrections contributions, and continue to nominate personnel to the UN’s peace operations whenever applicable. We further commit to taking all necessary preventive steps to avoid to the maximum extent the introduction and spread of the virus in missions”, the letter states.

UE ONU“Peace operations – underlined the 27 Ambassadors – must be able to continue to operate and deliver on their mandate, promote conflict resolutions, support host States and protect civilian populations. In the spirit of your initiative ‘Action for Peacekeeping’, we urge the UN Secretariat, in partnership with all UN peace operations, host countries and member states, to continue to take all necessary measures to assure that missions have adequate capacities and resources to protect the health and safety of all personnel and to pursue the full implementation of their mandates. We request the Secretariat to maintain the custom of clear and transparent communications to troop and police contributing countries and other shareholders of peacekeeping in order to provide first-hand information and enable their planning”. (@OnuItalia)