The United Nations Friday honoured 119 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from 38 countries, including a Pakistani soldier, who lost their lives in 2018 and early 2019 while serving in UN peacekeeping operations in hotspots around the world.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presided over the special ceremony during which the Dag Hammarskjold Medal was awarded posthumously to the peacekeepers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace.

The solemn event, held at UN Headquarters in New York, marked the annual International Day of Peacekeepers.

Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, accepted the award from the UN chief on behalf of the family of Naik Muhammad Naeem Raza who embraced martyrdom while serving with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Speaking to APP afterwards, she said she was “humbled and honoured” to receive the award on behalf of Shaheed Raza.

“This medal to our hero Naik Muhammad Naeem Raza is recognition by the UN Secretary General of the sacrifice, dedication and professionalism of Pakistan’s peacekeepers,” Ambassador Lodhi said.

“Pakistani peacekeepers continue to serve UN peacekeeping missions with distinction and fly the flag of Pakistan high,” she said.

“Their sacrifices are testimony to Pakistan’s commitment to uphold international peace and security.”

Pakistan is currently the 6th largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN Peacekeeping. Currently, Pakistan contributes more than 5,200 military and police personnel to the UN peace operations in the Central African Republic, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Western Sahara.

During the ceremony, the Secretary-General also awarded the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” posthumously to Private Chancy Chitete of Malawi. The medal is named for a Senegalese peacekeeper who was killed in Rwanda in 1994 after saving countless civilian lives. This is the first time the medal has been awarded since the inaugural medal was presented to Captain Diagne’s family in his honour in 2016.

Private Chitete served with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and was killed last year while saving the life of a fellow peacekeeper from Tanzania who had been badly wounded during an operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which was aimed to stop attacks on local towns and to prevent the disruption of the Ebola response. His comrade survived, and Private Chitete’s heroism and sacrifice helped the peacekeepers achieve their objective of protecting civilians and forcing the ADF to withdraw from the area. Private Chitete’s family will receive the medal on his behalf.

In a message to mark Peacekeepers Day, the Secretary-General said: “Today we honour the more than one million men and women who have served as UN peacekeepers since our first mission in 1948. We remember the more than 3,800 personnel who paid the ultimate price. And we express our deepest gratitude to the 100,000 civilian, police and military peacekeepers deployed around the world today and to the countries that contribute these brave and dedicated women and men.”

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that UN peacekeepers – civilian, police, men and women, military personnel – save lives every day.

“Today, we honour those who have sacrificed their lives in service to peace. Their service and sacrifice inspires us to work harder to support a sustainable peace in some of the world’s most complex and challenging places.,” he added.

Earlier, the UN chief laid a floral wreath to honour all UN peacekeepers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace since 1948.