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Guterres Honors Peacekeeper Sacrifices in Mali, the Most Deadly U.N. Mission Area

The Secretary-General honored the Blue Helmets at the MINUSMA mission site, stating they are the "foremost symbol of the United Nations itself."

Secretary-General António Guterres attends a ceremony in Bamako, Mali, honoring all fallen peacekeepers on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. (MINUSMA/Olivier Salgado)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres commended the peacekeepers in Mali for their sacrifices under the most deadly operation amidst his shift to a "zero tolerance policy" concerning sexual assault and exploitation.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres visited Mali today to honor the 70th anniversary of U.N. peacekeeping. “As peacekeepers, you are the foremost symbol of the United Nations itself,” expressed Guterres, honoring the peacekeepers for their service and sacrifices.

Mali is currently home of the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. This operation started in 2013 after separatist rebels conducted a violent insurrection to try to take control of northern Mali. Subsequently, the operation has become the deadliest U.N. peacekeeping mission to date.

This mission’s purpose is to support national authorities while providing protection for civilians in conflict. After the attempted coup in 2013, Mali has been facing increased security concerns in its northern and central regions.

In March, the Secretary-General addressed the Security-Council with concerns for Blue Helmet safety during a debate on improving U.N. peacekeeping operations. Guterres contended that the demands for peacekeepers are unrealistic, as they “vulnerable” and are “targeted for attack.” Guterres remarked: “UN peacekeepers are often under-equipped, under-prepared and unready [and] there are gaps in command and control, in culture, in equipment and in training.”

Special Representative for the Secretary-General and head of MINUSMA Mahamet Saleh Annadif acknowledged the steps taken to repair these issues today: “By increasing training, by increasing patrols, by taking precautions to inspect roads before trucks drive through them, by taking advantage of the arrival of combat convoy contingents, we have really made significant progress towards diminishing casualties.”

Individuals interviewed by UN News from Mali commended the peacekeepers for their efforts. Mamoutou Kané, a local taxi driver, commented that the routine inspections by peacekeepers are “very good, [the inspections] allow us to work freely.” Another local interviewed, Boubacar Traoré, observed that the patrols conducted by peacekeepers are “reassuring for the population. [People from Mali] want it to last.”

However, many who have experienced peacekeeper occupation cannot relate to these sentiments. Countless civilians from different operations worldwide have accused peacekeepers of sexual exploitation and assault. Allegations range from Burundi peacekeepers trading sex with 14 year old girls for $4 to 134 Sri Lanken troops accused of multiple sexual assaults against Haitian women and girls between 2004 and 2007.

Today Guterres stated: “We also are committed to reinforcing the important role our forces must play in promoting human rights and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse,” falling in line with his proposed “zero tolerance policy.” The policy consists of appointing a Victims’ Rights Advocate and establishing a Circle of Leadership consisting of Heads of States who will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Only time will tell if the Secretary-General’s policy changes will end the U.N.’s culture of permitted abuse.

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