A tribute to the Blue Berets (the DPKO)

Australian troops in East Timor. Photo by Australian Civil-Military Centre/Creative Commons

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Alistair Walker analyses the sacrifices made by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations in Conflict. Alistair is studying an MA in Interactive Journalism at City University and has created the DiA blog’s first example of data journalism, so make sure you click on the links in the final paragraph to view his interactive graphs.

On 20 May 2002, 10 years ago this month, East Timor claimed itself an independent country for the first time. The announcement had been long anticipated, one people had quite literally been dying (and killing) to hear for some time already. That inauspicious Monday marked an endpoint of sorts, an objective that the East Timorese had waited years and lost up to 1,500 lives, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to reach.

To say that the wars showed humanity at its most sickeningly brutal, vile and hateful would only scratch the surface. The great tragedy is that the war waged between Timor and the East Timorese separatist movement is, statistically speaking, not especially extraordinary. That says less about the scale of the East Timor separatist crisis as it does of human warfare in the last twenty years – wars in Chechnya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and, of course, Afghanistan, took place over the same period.

Yet there is something that perhaps too often forgotten in the midst of the confused, frenetic energy of a war, with hundreds if not thousands of people forced from their homes or worse, with the formerly deeply-buried resentments between warring factions on display in the most gruesome fashion. It can be all too easy, with boundless bloody spectacles, to forget the sacrifice that is too often made by the Blue Berets, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

Made up of men and women from around the world, DPKO forces have worked in dozens of warzones since its founding in 1948 and still maintain 15 full operations globally. In fact, the 20th will mark a second anniversary; it will have been seven years since UNMISET, the UN Mission of Support to East Timor, completed their mission.

Still, the service of those personnel who have been sent to observe, to keep order, or to maintain what fragile peace can be eked out of the combatant forces has often meant huge, even total, sacrifice. Since the outbreak of the East Timor crisis in 1999, 55 UN peacekeeping staff have been killed while on missions in the region.

Here are two interactive graphs that show UN peacekeeping staff fatalities by nationality and mission, based on data from the DPKO’s website and current up to 31st March 2012. The first shows all fatalities since 1948 by the nationality of the peacekeeper killed in action; the second shows total fatalities for each DPKO mission.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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