Commemoration days events such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, like so many other things in our lives, have been greatly affected by the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month another day of commemoration slipped by almost completely unnoticed, National Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Day.
The day is intended as an opportunity to thank those Australians who have served on international peacekeeping operations to help countries in need. Since 1947 more than 65,000 Australian Defence Force personnel, members of the police forces and civilians have served on over 50 peacekeeping missions around the globe.
Australia's reputation in support of peacekeeping missions is superb and one to be proud of however seldom noticed by the broader public.I have always found it ironic that Australian Defence Force personnel invest the lions share of their time and effort in training for war in defence of Australia and her interests but so often end up serving as peacekeepers actually preventing war and fighting.
Peace operations are generally, but not always, conducted under a mandate from the United Nations. The deployment of Peacekeepers is one of the most effective tools the UN has to assist a country navigate the path from conflict to peace.
The UN has three basic principles that guide its peacekeeping ventures - consent of parties involved, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
So why are peacekeepers usually armed you may ask? This is because when peacekeepers stand between two opposing forces they may need self-protection, must be able to protect non-combatants and key infrastructure and they should be in a position to act as a deterrent to belligerents if required.
Peacekeepers deploy under strict and often complicated rules of engagement. Peacekeeping is, more often than not, a high risk venture for those involved, and sadly 16 Aussie Peacekeepers paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Many more Australians have been physically and mentally wounded on peacekeeping operations; they have been witness to the very worst of humanity.
In April 1995 a small group of Australian soldiers serving as part of a UN assistance mission in Rwanda were caught in the middle of one of the most shocking yet little known events in Australian military history.
They bore witness to a tragedy known as the Kibeho Massacre where more than 4000 Hutus were butchered by armed Tutsi. If not for the Australians, it is likely the Hutu death toll would have been in the tens of thousands.
Four Australians were awarded the Medal of Gallantry for their actions at Kibeho - the first Australian awards for gallantry since the Vietnam War.
Australia's participation in peace operations has occurred so frequently it is difficult to single out one operation as being more notable than another.
In the early 1990s this country had over 2000 peacekeepers serving concurrently in both Somalia and Cambodia.
Australia was central to the peace monitoring mission for many years in Bougainville following the bloody conflict between the Papua New Guinea government and the separatist Bougainville Revolutionary Army, and this was not a UN mission.
Our largest ever peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations were in East Timor, which ultimately achieved independence from Indonesia.
Australian Defence personnel are still serving as observers with UN operations in the Middle East and have being doing so since since 1956.
It is not just soldiers, sailors and airmen that serve on peace operations. Many federal and state police and Australian public servants have been peacekeepers, peace monitors or participated in some capacity on peace operations. They have served in locations as diverse as Cambodia, Haiti, Mozambique, Bougainville and Timor.
Such is the importance this country places on its role in peace operations that in 1993 the Australian Defence Force Peace Operation Training Centre was established with a mission to prepare Australian and international personnel for employment on peace operations.
I think we as Australians can be justifiably proud to live in a country where those who wear a uniform and prepare to fight in our name more often end up keeping the peace as a part of the global family.
I urge those who have served on peace operations and do not belong to an ex-service organisation such as their local RSL sub branch to consider joining as your attendance would help to make more people aware of the rich history of Australian Peacekeepers.
Lest we Forget.