UN peacekeepers play a critical role in fulfilling the UN peace operations to maintain international peace and security.
Peacekeepers’ tasks vary according to mandates from the UN Security Council. Each mandate is different according to the nature of conflicts and threats to peace. Some of the common responsibilities involve preventing outbreaks of conflict, stabilising conflict situations, assisting with the implementation of peace agreements, and assisting states to transition to stable governments through democratic principles.
Most missions are in countries facing hardship where there are significant security risks and where there is likely to be a long road of recovery in rebuilding what had been lost due to conflict and displacement of people. There are currently 12 active peacekeeping operations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
During my 19 years of service with the Royal Malaysia Police, I was fortunate to be entrusted with responsibilities ranging from intelligence to crime prevention and management. However, when the department advertised for expressions of interest for a peacekeeping tour of duty with United Nations Police (UNPOL), I thought it would be an opportunity to seek a fresh professional and international challenge.
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has set minimum requirements for police officers to be selected as members of UNPOL. Candidates must meet English competency, pass a driving test, and get a clean bill of health from a recognised medical practitioner.
The selection took place in March 2022, in the post-Covid recovery phase. After the screening process, 113 were selected. Of these, the first batch consisting of 10 officers (seven males and three females) finally received the deployment order from the UN DPKO, New York.
I was appointed as the contingent commander (CC) of the Malaysian UNPOL to the Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan. Our tour of duty would be for 12 months.
We left Malaysia in mid-October 2022, and arrived in Juba, the capital, after nearly 24 hours of travel.
The first month tested our mental and physical endurance as we adapted to sharing accommodation with other people in prefabricated units with limited facilities and comfort, and unpredictable security environments. Individuals’ movements were restricted to camp rules, and curfew hours were applied.
At all times, we had to be prepared for immediate evacuation with a standby bag packed with essential items and walkie-talkies.
The mission operations have a well-established preparatory framework for new arrivals, and no time was lost. We started our induction classes the day we arrived, and that lasted almost 10 days. We were required to take our driving assessment again and be interviewed by human re- sources to evaluate our skill sets.
Once the induction was over, we received our initial deployment order, and apart from the CCs, the officers were deployed to field offices in various locations across the country. In the case of the Malaysian contingent, the CC and deputy CC were in the field offices in Juba, where the mission headquarters is located.
Our time in South Sudan has passed quickly. I have almost come to the end of the mission. First, I performed the roles of a patrol officer and a capacity building and programme development (CBPD) officer. These positions required knowledge, awareness, a sense of sensitivity, mutual respect, and understanding as we reached out to the communities in South Sudan who have faced human rights violations and are recovering from conflict trauma.
My present role is as a liaison officer with the Welfare Unit. My responsibility is to facilitate adjustment to life in mission for UN personnel: Civilians, military, and police. The aims were to improve their working environment as well as their morale, team spirit and productivity and, overall, improve the operational capability of the mission.
It has been a great pleasure to use my knowledge, skills, and experience in implementing the UN mission in South Sudan as a police advisor and in the welfare unit.
UNPOL members hold their nation’s flag on their shoulder. Peacekeepers must be highly disciplined and professional, and focus on the mission assignment. They need to also demonstrate the highest level of integrity, be able to work independently, and show respect for diversity. Having these characteristics allow them to strive well with all the experiences, networking, and knowledge gained during the tour of duty. Otherwise, a sense of overexposure and unsupervised freedom could be harmful. The mission life is indeed a place to test people’s self-discipline and principles.
My South African colleague and housemate has been my companion and guide during the best moments. We discussed and supported each other as we shared many things in common. In this world, different faiths, cultures and beliefs need never prevent living in peace.
Meeting colleagues from around the world is a reward. I have made friends with people from more than 50 nationalities during my tenure. Social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook make these friendships possible and enduring.
Finally, I carry the satisfaction of leaving behind my footprint in South Sudan with the small contributions I made towards the peace and sovereignty of its people. These are my best mission memories.
The writer is currently on a peacekeeping assignment at the UN Mission in South Sudan and bound for homecoming this month. He is also an alumnus of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship at American University, 2018–19.