By Cecilia Ologunagba
New York, May 25, 2023
Captain Cecilia Erzuah from Ghana, who served with the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), on Thursday won the 2022 UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, presented the award to Erzuah, at the 2023 International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers at UN headquarters in New York.
Some fallen heroes in 2022 were also posthumously awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal as part of the activities to mark the Day.
In his message, Guterres said that the UN’s 87,000-plus peacekeepers worldwide are a “beacon of hope and protection” for vulnerable civilians, in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.
The UN chief recognised 102 peacekeepers, including two Nigerians who died in the line of duty in 2022.
He said the men and women that serve, from 125 countries, across 12 operations, were working to support security, stability and the rule of law.
“They represent the beating heart of the United Nations’ commitment to peace,” Guterres said.
“By bringing peacekeepers together from around the world, peacekeeping has also become an inspiring symbol of multilateralism in action,” he added.
But thanks to the increasing complexity of conflict, stagnating peace processes, the constant beat of terrorist activity, armed militia, gang violence and transnational crime, communities, countries and entire regions, are being increasingly poisoned, he said.
“And the digital world has become a frightening frontier of tension, division, hate and mis and disinformation.
“Sadly, our peacekeepers are increasingly working in places where there is no peace to keep.”
He called of governments of Member States to “seriously reflect on the need for a new generation of peace-enforcement missions and counter-terrorism operations”, led by Security Council mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, that could rely on a guaranteed funding stream.
“We mourn their loss and share our deepest sympathies with their families, friends and colleagues. We will never forget their contributions,” he said, before leading a moment of silence.
The UN chief read the roll of those who died in service in 2022, with more than 4,200 killed in total in the cause of peace.
“Our fallen military, police and civilian personnel came from 39 different countries, with diverse backgrounds. But all embodied our duty to peace.
“I extend my deepest condolences and gratitude to their families, friends, colleagues and home countries represented here.
“I pay tribute to their service and sacrifice, which inspire our work every day.
“And I commit to doing everything we can to support our peacekeepers in their mission, including improving their safety and security and the effectiveness of peacekeeping through the Action for Peacekeeping Plus strategy,” he said.
Paying tribute to the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the UN chief said it reminds “that our women peacekeepers are not only supporting global peace and security. They are leading the way.”
The winner of the award, Captain Cecilia Erzuah of Ghana, embodies leadership in every way, and the principles behind resolution 1325, he said, for her work in Abyei as the Commander of the Ghana Engagement Platoon since March last year.
“In Abyei, she saw first-hand the enormous toll of armed conflict on entire communities — especially women — and she spared no effort to ensure that their voices were heard and reflected,” he added.
Her work, reaching out to local communities to hear their concerns, explains the work of peacekeepers, building trust, as well as engaging with local leadership, women and youth, “has been critical to the mission’s success,” he stressed.
He also said it was “high time” the number of women working in UN peacekeeping missions everywhere was significantly increased.
In her remarks, Erzuah, said she was honoured to receive the award, saying it “underscores the tireless efforts and dedication” of her whole platoon, towards gender equality and inclusiveness.
The disputed region of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan, has seen a UN peacekeeping presence since 2011, where the UNIFSA security force works to strengthen police capacity, protect civilians under threat, and help with humanitarian aid and the free movement of aid workers.
She said her platoon’s work had led to an increase in the number of women joining local, male-dominated community protection committees.
Erzuah dedicated her award to “the beautiful people of Abyei” whose memory she would always treasure, and “to all peacekeeping personnel, particularly women in uniform.
“May our dedication, commitment and love for humanity, never go unrewarded. Long live the United Nations.”
The head of Operational Support, Atul Khare, accepted a medal on behalf of the families of 42 civilian peacekeepers, who have “paid the ultimate sacrifice”, from 20 Member States.
He said the best way to honour their memories, was to “rededicate ourselves, and our efforts, to the cause of peace.”