UN honours 2 Ghanaian peacekeepers who died in action

The United Nations has posthumously conferred its highest awards, the Dag Hammarskjold Medals on two Ghanaian Peacekeepers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their line of duty.

They are Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Sakyi, who was with the UN Organizational Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and Staff Sergeant Boniface Atanyik, formerly with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The two were among the 117 men and woman, from 43 countries who lost their lives last year serving under the UN flag.  This brings total deaths since 1948 to 3, 500 peacekeepers.

Ambassador Martha Pobee, Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the UN received the medals on the behalf of her fallen countrymen from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres at a solemn ceremony held at the UN headquarters in New York.

The medals for the others were received by the representatives of their respective counties, whilst Lisa Buttenheim, Assistant Secretary General for Field Support received that of the 11 civilians who also perished in their line of duty. 

In his tribute, Mr. Guterres noted that “those we honour today died while protecting the world’s most vulnerable people and supporting countries in making the difficult transition from conflict to peace. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of those we honour today.  Your sons and daughters, wives and husbands gave more than we can even ever repay.  Our thoughts are with them and with you”.

Expressing sympathies to the countries that lost peacekeepers last year, the Secretary General said that “some countries lost more lives than others—and we remain forever grateful. But every life is precious and each and every one of the 117 people we honour today helped to improve the lives of others and contributed to peace’.

UN peacekeeping, he said is one of the international community’s most effective investments to support peace, security and prosperity.  It has a positive impact on the lives of millions of people around the world.  While peacekeeping carries a tragically high price in lives lost, it brings enormous returns in lives saved.

Commenting on the recent attacks on peacekeepers in Mali and in the Central African Republic, he said that it “remind us of the dangerous conditions in which our peacekeepers work. But these are not the only hazards they face. Every year, dozens of our staff die from injuries sustained in accidents, or from disease, while deployed far from their homes and families.  We pay tribute to all who lost their lives in the service of peace”.

Mr. Guterres added that the world “owe this to the women and men who risk their lives every day to fulfill our mandates.”

“There are risks when deploying peacekeepers to a crisis area, but inaction may carry even greater risks. We are still learning hard lessons from the Rwanda genocide”, the Secretary General stated, stressing that “we must continue to invest in the safety of our peacekeepers. The peacekeeping family – Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, the UN Secretariat and the Member States — must work together to make peacekeeping as safe as possible using modern technology and equipment and better intelligence gathering.”

Earlier, Mr. Guterres laid a wreath at a cenotaph at the UN headquarters in honour of fallen peacekeepers. A minute’s silence was also observed and the last post was sounded at the event attended by member states and their Military and Police attaches.

The Secretary General remarked that the closure of UN operations in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia in the coming months reminds the world that the contributions, investments and sacrifices of United Nations peacekeepers have contributed to the transformation of these countries from battlefields to peaceful states.

To this end, he repeated that “the greatest tribute we can pay to those who have died is to rededicate ourselves to continuing their work to build and maintain peace.  

They are the best of all of us and we must always pay tribute to their sacrifice that is a demonstration of the courage and generosity that the United Nations needs to present in today’s world.”

R. Harry Reynolds, New York