Amid the political standoff during the 2010 elections in Ivory Coast, about 120 Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were deployed at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan for five months.
The hotel had become a home for Alassane Dramane Ouattara amid his rising tensions with political rival Laurent Gbagbo, who had declared himself the winner of a landmark election.
The UN had reported intense fighting in Abidjan in early April 2010 between the forces loyal to President Ouattara and elements of the former Republican Guard and Special Forces who still remained loyal to Gbagbo.
These forces intensified and escalated their use of heavy weapons such as mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and heavy machine guns against the civilian population.
At one point a Bangladeshi Doctor named Shumon was shot and had to be flown out of the country. The situation was so intense, Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Saidur Rahman was afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had to be flown back to Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, the ASP was not able to cope with the ordeal he had witnessed and passed away on his way to his village in Bangladesh, according to Additional Superintendent of Police Mohammad Yousuf Ali.
There have been many such sacrifices made by Bangladeshi forces in the UN Peacekeeping missions. These recently include three Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers being killed, and four others injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Mali on September 24 this year.
But that sacrifice comes with many admirations, such as Bangla being declared as an official language in Sierra Leone along with a road named after Bangladesh in honour of our Peacekeepers.
Since 1988, Bangladeshi Peacekeepers have been working with UN missions to keep the peace in countries from Haiti to East Timor, Lebanon to Congo and from Croatia to Namibia.
The Bangladeshi contingent in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, successfully completed the referendum organised by the UN, which played a key role in ensuring independence and sovereignty of the African nation.
In 2010, Bangladesh deployed the first all-female peacekeeping unit in Haiti Courtesy
Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, in particular, lauded Bangladeshi peacekeepers, saying: “The Bangladeshi contingent has gone beyond its protection mandate and helped build up the manpower capacity of the country.”
Bangladesh is one of the leading countries that sent a good number of peacekeepers on UN missions, covering more than 6.5% of the total peacekeepers.
A high ranking UN peacekeeping official said: "Bangladesh is currently the second largest contributor of peacekeepers with over 7,500 troops and police, including more than a hundred women, deployed to 10 of our missions. Bangladeshi peacekeepers are serving in some of the most difficult places in the world, including in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo , Mali and South Sudan. Bangladesh has also deployed command officers to provide military leadership in our missions in Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, and Central African Republic. We remain grateful to the Government and the people of Bangladesh for their sacrifices and their continued role in preserving international peace and security."
Ever since its first deployment on UN missions in 1988 – UNIIMOG in Iraq and UNTAG in Namibia - Bangladesh has maintained its contribution to world peace despite such sacrifices and testing time.
In the last three decades, as many as 150,647 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, from the armed forces and the police, have worked in 54 UN missions in 40 countries. Of them, 135 have sacrificed their lives to help establish peace, with more than 200 others suffering injuries.
Currently, some 7,636 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, comprising 6,636 from the armed forces and the rest from police, are working on the UN missions, according to UN peacekeeping statistics until August 31, 2017.
The role of female peacekeepers from Bangladesh is also quite significant. At present, 57 female members of the armed forces and 79 policewomen are deployed on UN missions.
The country first deployed its female peacekeepers on a UN mission in 2000. Since then, a total of 1,008 female peacekeepers from the police department have been sent on different missions.
In 2010, Bangladesh deployed the first all-female peacekeeping unit in Haiti.
Deputy Inspector General Mili Biswas, who was among the first five female Bangladeshi peacekeepers, said: “I was in East Timor for a year. But the start was not so easy for us. We had to come across an adverse environment. We also faced some official difficulties.
“East Timor was a completely destroyed and an unstable country. There was neither water, nor gas or even electricity. We had to face it all. ”
During the mission, Mili was the only female commander out of 41 contingents from different countries.
Challenges and difficulties
Adverse environments, severe conflicts and even completely different cultures are the major obstacles for the peacekeepers.
According to the Inter Service Public Relations Directorate (ISPR), Central African Republic was one of the toughest countries to continue a UN peacekeeping mission.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers are now facing difficulty on UN missions in Mali and South Sudan, the ISPR adds.
When asked about allegations of sexual abuse against the peacekeepers, especially in Africa, the ISPR said Bangladesh armed forces has adopted a “Zero Tolerance Policy” in this regard.
“Bangladeshi contingent members committing any offence of such a nature are subjected to any disciplinary action by the contingent commander under the concerned service’s Act and the rules made there under,” the ISPR adds.
No stone is left unturned in the investigation and disciplinary action under the legislation against the potential violator, it further says.
Outcomes of working on a UN mission
The peacekeepers working on such missions get a chance to work in a multinational atmosphere, ultimately helping increase their professional skills and experience.
The law enforcing agencies are also benefitting from the missions since the trained and experienced peacekeepers rejoin them at the end of their mission.
The ISPR says Bangladesh’s peacekeepers are professionally gaining from their exposure to the world. In particular, they get to understand how more advanced armies operate.