Are Bangladesh’s Peacekeepers Really “Fit for the Future”?

Bangladesh has been playing a vital role in UN peacekeeping operations for over three decades now. Ever since joining the UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) in 1988, the country has deployed over 194,856 forces globally, making Bangladesh into the ranks of top Troop Contributing Country (TCC). This year’s theme for International Day of Peacekeepers is “Fit for the Future, Building Better Together”. In order to understand what the theme actually entails and how it correlates with Bangladeshi peacekeepers, we will explore the current state of Bangladeshi Peacekeeping Forces as the aforesaid theme is further explained in this article.

The practice of commemorating UN peacekeepers was established in 2002 by the UN General Assembly, to pay tribute to all men and women serving in peacekeeping, and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace. Every year, a theme is employed to recount the changing nature of peacekeeping operations hitherto linking the values enshrined in the UN Charter. According to Gwyn Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh– “The 2024 theme – Fit for the Future, Building Better Together – is a reminder that Peacekeeping requires the consent of host governments and the support of regional and international partners to address today’s complex peace and security challenges. Peacekeepers must build strong relationships, based on empathy and mutual respect, with local communities, women and youth, civil society, humanitarian organizations, and governments.  We rely on these relationships to resolve tensions, support reconciliation, and build peace.” What this means is that, in today’s day and age, peacekeeping operations have pivoted to a more holistic approach where cooperation with state, local community and culture have become a necessary instrument to maneuver long lasting and sustainable solutions. In order to implement such a comprehensive approach, partnerships from all walks is extremely crucial.

Keeping up with the theme’s denotation, two aspects are highlighted- 1) partnering with stakeholders to protect civilians, and, 2) an understanding of UN values. On the former aspect, Bangladesh Armed Forces controlled Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT) has been a cornerstone in terms of providing training on technical skills which correspondingly includes understanding of the UN values. As we approach towards a more holistic approach, adequate working conditions is deemed crucial for guaranteeing the safety and security of peacekeepers. In this breath, Bangladesh championed the UN Resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda of 2000, subsequently adopting Bangladesh’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2019-2022). Under the context of the National Plan, Bangladesh Armed Forces has been granted funds to construct a dedicated accommodation facility for female soldiers. This ensures an inclusive and enabling environment to support women’s participation in peacekeeping in light of the theme’s adage “Building Better Together”. 

On the other hand, understanding of UN values pertains to “encapsulate the spirit of progress, paramount importance of linking the work to the values enshrined in the UN Charter, strengthening collective action towards a more equal, just, and sustainable world.” The Preamble of UN states, ‘we the peoples of the United Nations determined save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…’ The Preamble conveys the rudimentary understanding of UN values and ethics. Keeping in line of this leitmotif, Bangladesh which had only started to recruit female officers in Armed Forces in 2000, responded immediately and deployed an all-female police unit in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, where they fought against crimes like rape and assault in addition to protecting humanitarian convoy.

Likewise, UN’s recent policy brief, A New Agenda for Peace details  actions on ‘preventing conflict and violence and sustaining peace’ and calls for nurturing a peace paradigm within nations using preventive strategies. Moreover, Article 25-1 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states the importance of promoting international peace and security. In this line, the ethos of Bangladeshi Peacekeeping forces directly draws a parallel with the UN’s New Agenda for Peace. In a nutshell, the Bangladeshi Peacekeeping Forces are tight-knitted with the theme’s axiom “fit for the future”.

As one in every ten peacekeepers is from Bangladesh, these professionals play an important role in both on and off the ground. On ground they are touted as the custodians of the UN and off ground they sketch the groundwork for future peacekeepers integrating principles of UN Charter and our Constitution. With the complex nature of peacekeeping operations flaring up in each ensuing decades, the peacekeepers performing double duty infers that Bangladeshi peacekeepers are indeed “fit for the future”.

[Photo by Sqn.Ldr.Zaman & Faisal, via Wikimedia Commons]

Syeda Noshin Sharmily is currently pursuing her postgraduate degree in International Relations from University of Dhaka. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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