Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the Day of the Peacekeeper

06.06.2019 - Speech

The German Government has celebrated the Day of the Peacekeeper for the past seven years. And despite everything that has been achieved in this time, we still haven’t managed to do one thing, namely to find a good German translation for the word “peacekeeper”.

Various options have been tried, but none has stuck. And I admit that saying in German that you’re a professional peacekeeper sounds nice, but also a bit strange.

And perhaps one reason for that, ladies and gentlemen, is because “peace” has been an abstract term for the vast majority of us here in Germany for a very long time. It has become something we take for granted.

In order to feel what peace really means, one needs to go where you work every day.

That’s why I want to tell you about a place I will not forget any time soon. It is located 45 minutes by helicopter southwest of Bogotá, somewhere in the green valleys of the Colombian Andes. A couple of weeks ago, I visited a reintegration camp there for former FARC rebels – men and women whose day-to-day lives consisted of fighting, fleeing, violence and counter-violence for decades.

Asked why they had laid down their arms three years ago, one of the former combatants pointed to a hut in the camp – the kindergarten. And indeed the camp was full of children, mostly aged under three.

Peace has brought about a real baby boom among the FARC combatants in Colombia. Female combatants were not allowed to have children because the camps had to be disbanded every two days and set up again so the rebels wouldn’t be found. But suddenly these people, who laid down their arms three years ago, had a future. Their lives had new meaning and they wanted to have children.

For me personally, this showed once again that peace is anything but abstract. It creates the foundation for everything else – for development, prosperity and self-realisation.
Or to quote Willy Brandt, “peace is not everything, but without peace we have nothing”.

And that brings me to you, my dear peacekeepers, as you too create peace in very different ways.

You do so on behalf of the United Nations, the EU, the OSCE or NATO.

You work as civilian experts, police officers or soldiers.

You serve in Mali, the Niger, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Ukraine, Albania or Kosovo.

You are driven to do this work by a sense of personal commitment. And you could not choose any other course. This drive goes hand in hand with a clear moral compass. And this also always entails courage. Peacekeeping involves personal constraints and risks. And that is not only the case in war zones.

We were tragically reminded of this just a few months ago by the plane crash near Addis Ababa. Dozens of staff members of the UN family were killed, including a young German woman who worked for the IOM in Khartoum. When we gather here today, we are also thinking of them.

Your courage should motivate us to support you as much as possible during your deployments abroad. We owe it to you to ensure you are as safe as possible. That’s why we have provided the United Nations with armoured vehicles, for example, and why we procure bulletproof vests for peacekeepers in Mali. These may be simple things, but they can save lives in certain situations on the ground.

Be it in the UN Security Council or during debates in the German Bundestag on mandates, we are always aware that you must put our decisions into practice a long way from Berlin or New York. By the way, I have just come from the Bundestag, where I argued on behalf of the German Government for extending the KFOR mandate.

However, we are also working in the Security Council to define mandates realistically. For example, when the new UN observer mission was set up in Yemen, we called for aspects such as accommodation, safety and logistics to be taken into account from the start. At first glance, these are also simple things. But they must never be forgotten in such seemingly major decisions if we want to live up to our responsibility as political decision-makers. Some people may think that mentioning such things sounds bureaucratic. But in the final analysis, you know best that in the field, these are often the obstacles that prevent you from doing your actual work.

And I am certainly not the only person here in the Federal Foreign Office who believes that this work is the best hallmark of our peace policy. When I look at your CVs, at where you work and at what you do, they reflect the entire spectrum of what peacekeeping actually means. It ranges from prevention and conflict management to stabilisation and peacebuilding.

The German Government has laid down this very comprehensive approach in its guidelines on civilian crisis prevention. And we also want to ensure that this approach is strengthened internationally.

That means, for example, supporting Secretary-General António Guterres in making prevention a bigger part of peacekeeping. This is an important topic, as we are currently a member of the UN Security Council. I have now attended several meetings there and learned how the Security Council works. It sometimes feels like the Security Council – in line with the traditional criteria – is only willing to address an issue once people have actually died.

By the way, the first topic we put on the Security Council agenda in January was climate and security. And at the time, people appeared somewhat puzzled by this. It seems that deaths only count if they have been caused by shooting, while deaths that result from starvation or dehydration are not part of the portfolio that the Security Council wants to address. And we need to change that.

We must make much greater use of such bodies to prevent conflicts – not merely to contain them once they have started. Regrettably, we have not been very successful in this area in the Security Council in recent years. We must do far more to ensure conflicts don’t break out in the first place.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are also working to ensure that the achievements of peacekeeping missions, which costs billions, are not rendered null and void by underfunded peacebuilding plans. That’s another topic that needs to be tackled in New York. That’s why we were the largest contributor to the UN Peacebuilding Fund in 2018. That’s why we fund mediation and back up our engagement with wide-ranging stabilisation measures, in which we invest a lot of money.

And we also want to enhance civilian crisis management at the European level. Our main contribution will be the establishment of a European centre of excellence for civilian crisis management here in Berlin. It will work alongside the Center for International Peace Operations and develop standards and recommendations for civilian crisis deployment that can then be used by all member states.

Peacekeepers, ladies and gentlemen,
I hope these efforts will also be tangible on the ground and in the field. What we hear in Berlin is that your work is held in extremely high regard.

Be it in Afghanistan, Mali or the Western Balkans, German experts have a truly outstanding reputation. I constantly hear that during my trips abroad.

Their reputation is so good that demand is significantly higher than supply. But we are also working on that, not least with the Center for International Peace Operations, which has seconded well over 1000 civilian experts in recent years. It provides around 300 election observers per year. And naturally, it also trains people ahead of their deployments. I would like to thank you, Ms Wieland-Karimi, and your staff for all your hard work. We are very grateful to you.

But of course, and most importantly, I would like to thank you peacekeepers. We may not be sure what to call you in German, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. At any rate, you definitely do one thing – you encourage others, as people who demonstrate courage themselves inspire others with courage!

In countries where police officers are often feared and mistrusted, you foster trust and confidence.

As soldiers, you show people what it means to be “citizens in uniform”.

And you fly the flag for human rights, the rule of law and democracy in places where these are often foreign words, even in the local language.

Before I hand over to you, State Secretary Zimmer, and to you, State Secretary Vitt, I would like to say a few words about the three civilian experts seconded on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office to whom we are paying tribute today.

First of all, Kerstin Bartsch, who works in the Niger as an advisor to EUCAP Sahel Mali on the fight against human trafficking. You inform local security forces and the civilian population in the northern part of the country about the legal situation as regards human smuggling and trafficking. Working at a hub on the migration route, you help to build local capacities to deal with the global challenge of migration.

To be honest, I can’t imagine a more difficult job at the moment – and nor can I imagine a more important one. So thank you very much indeed for what you do there!

Sebastian Frowein, you are something of a première and we are particularly proud of that. You are one of the first experts to be seconded by the Center for International Peace Operations directly to a UN mission. You work in Mali in the field that should be the heart of any peace mission, namely protecting civilians. The deteriorating security situation in Mali shows how very necessary this is and how much you are needed there. The fact that you do this work in Mopti despite the difficult conditions you face is appreciated not only by the people in the region, but also by us here in Germany, and we want to express this gratitude here today.

Claudia Vollmer, you are Head of the Democratisation Department in the OSCE Presence in Albania and have an excellent reputation as a mediator. Word about your expertise has now spread to Berlin. You bring local stakeholders and NGOs together, one aim being to enhance the role of women in politics in Albania. I think I can imagine fairly well how difficult that is at the moment in the current situation in the country. But it is very clear that despite all the problems, things have changed. In the meantime, seven of Albania’s eleven ministers are women. Looking at our parliaments, management boards and cabinets, we should actually bring you back here to Germany. But we won’t do that because you are needed in the Balkans. And you know that Albania is currently going through a truly very, very crucial phase at the moment as regards its EU accession negotiations. That’s why you are needed there and why you will stay there. All the best and many thanks for your work in Albania!

Ladies and gentlemen,
No matter what word you use in German for your work as a peacekeeper, one thing is certain. You do outstanding work, and all of us want to pay tribute to you here at this event. And when I say “all of us”, I don’t only mean the Federal Foreign Office, but also the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Ministry of Defence. And we want to do everything we can to support you in your work.

Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! It’s a pleasure to have you here with us today.


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