Peacekeepers, the often forgotten, unmentioned Aussie Heroes.

Written by AHQ

11 June 2015

Our current peacekeeping contingent in South Sudan with the laundry bags we surprised them with (all sewn by Sue G)


Waaaay back in November 2012, nearing the end of our first year in operation as Aussie Heroes, I received an email from a RAAF Warrant Officer asking if I would consider including him and his 18 fellow peacekeepers who were at that time serving with the United Nations in South Sudan.   Did we have people in South Sudan???? I had no idea.  I asked for more info and he sent me plenty, enough to write some blog posts and tell everyone about them.  

Three years on and I sometimes think that the only section of the general public who knows that we have peace keepers serving in places like South Sudan, the Sinai in Egypt and Israel is us, the Aussie Hero public.   I mention our peace keepers when I give presentations about Aussie Heroes and what we do and often noone has any idea we have any. 

I am usually fairly diplomatic about things like this as it does not our sailors, soldiers and airmen and airwomen are serving around the world unless there is an operational security reason for secrecy.  Unfortunately our peacekeepers do not get much press.  

When a past recipient, Phil, wrote an opinion piece for New Ltd I knew I had to share it. I hope you will take the time to read it.

Before I leave to to read it though please know that our contingent in South Sudan now has its own FACEBOOK Page. I have been following a United Nations Mission South Sudan page for the last few years and have RARELY seen an Aussie face on it but with the new page, only launched this year, it features the Aussies and lets you know what they are doing. I hope you will check it out and LIKE it. Let our guys and girls know that we know they are there and are cheering them on.

It is called Australian Defence Force in South Sudan and you can find it here

Now please have a read of Phil’s piece…….

Australia’s UN peacekeepers wear masks to protect from disease as they walk through Kibeho refugee camp in Rwanda in 1995 looking for injured refugees or corpses that were sometimes buried under garbage and dirt.

Talking Point: Obeying an order to witness hell


Obeying an order to witness hell

AMID the intense lead-up to the Centenary of Anzac, a significant anniversary quietly passed unnoticed – remembered only by those who witnessed one of the world’s horrific acts of genocide.

April, 1995, saw Australian Defence Force personnel deployed as United Nations Peacekeepers under the Second United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR II) at the Kibeho Internally Displaced Persons Camp where 80,000 to 100,000 people were housed in nine square kilometres.

Thirty-three Australians, including medical staff, were sent to the camp to support the UN effort, setting up at a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Leading up to April 22, the Australians witnessed the Rwandan Patriotic Army channeling the entire camp population into an area 1000m by 500m like cattle.

Before long, shooting started, with the refugees unable to break out of the area – gunned down in front of the Australians who could not respond under UN rules of engagement.

The next day the Australians collected the bodies, counting over 4000 in the areas they accessed. Some believe 8000 refugees died that day but the UN places the figure at 2000 and the Rwandan Government at 338.

If the Australian contingent had opened fire at the Rwandan army, they would have certainly been wiped out, and the Rwandan government would certainly have demanded the immediate removal of the UN mission.

Later, they were accused of doing nothing, a criticism that rested heavily with those involved.

Many were later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and four Australian peacekeepers awarded the Medal of Gallantry – the first time gallantry medals were awarded since Vietnam.

Despite Kibeho being such a horrific and disturbing event, for many years the action was classified non-warlike until lobbying by the Australian Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Veterans Association, bought change to warlike service in 2006.

When Australian and international forces under INTERFET entered Timor in 1999 the service for those involved in bringing the nation to independence was classified as warlike.

However, for a small group of soldiers under the Australian Support Training Team – East Timor, their service while training the East Timorese guerillas into a fledgling army was classified as peacetime service.

Receiving different medals and entitlements to other Australian forces, the training team staff later had their UN medals withdrawn. While their service was later aligned with the ADF UN peacekeeping force in East Timor, in 2009 thanks to the APPVA, to this day the battle for their UN medal goes on.

Australia’s peacekeeping commitment is this nation’s enduring but very much overlooked mission. The First World’s first peacekeepers under the UN were four Australians sent to Indonesia as observers in 1947.

Over nearly seven decades Australians have been involved in over 70 UN- sanctioned operations, one of the largest being the Korean War.

Peacekeeping in the broader context covers peace enforcement, monitoring of ceasefire agreements, border protection patrols, humanitarian operations, including humanitarian intervention operations, and maintenance of global security, peace and order.

It can involve full warlike conflict or low-level operations.

Most Australians wouldn’t know Australian Federal Police remain monitoring the border between Greek- and Turkish-held territory in Cyprus since 1964 or ongoing involvement in the Solomon Islands (2003) or the Sudan (2011).

Just as many would not be aware ADF peacekeepers still serve in the Sinai (1982), Lebanon (1956) or in the Sudan as well. Australian citizens have also given high levels of service across multiple UN operations in a range of roles.

Australia’s peacekeeping history isn’t viewed in the same way as our major conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Operations, despite peacekeepers being faced with high levels of danger, are generally classified as non-warlike, giving a different level of pension and compensation entitlements.

Despite the tens of millions being channelled into the Centenary of Anzac, the National Peacekeeping Memorial project on Anzac Parade in Canberra sits unfinished – unable to attract the necessary funds for completion.

Peacekeeping is not seen as relevant enough to attract the attention of corporate Australia and the project completion was removed from the Centenary of Anzac funding by the Gillard government.

For over a decade the APPVA battled to have the names of those 48 who died on peacekeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian operations placed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

The three Australian police officers who died in Cyprus and protective service officer killed in the Solomon Islands were placed on the National Police Memorial – no issues, no double standards and no bureaucratic interference.

The inclusion of peacekeepers on the Roll of Honour was blocked by bureaucrats, senior national RSL heads, the former Australian War Memorial director and unsupported by both major parties – the families of the 48 had to contend with second-rate recognition with a book locked in a cabinet.

Permission had to be gained from AWM staff for the families to see the name of their loved one unlike the families of the other 103,000 Australians to have died in war who could see and touch names on the bronze roll.

Captain Peter McCarthy was killed when his vehicle struck a landmine in Lebanon in 1988. His service as a UN military observer was non-warlike and his name was placed in the book.

Sergeant Andrew Russell was killed in a similar incident in 2002 in Afghanistan. As Sgt Russell was serving in a warlike environment, his name rightfully went on the roll. But the deaths of these two men highlighted the inequality shown to peacekeepers.

A new APPVA campaign in 2011-12 – assisted initially through ABC 7.30 Tasmania, a petition drawing over 42,000 signatures, a motion in the Senate by the Australian Greens and a change in the AWM director – finally brought change and peace to the families.

The names of 48 Australians killed on peacekeeping, peace enforcement, border protection and humanitarian operations were placed finally on the roll in August, 2013. But this was a battle for recognition that should never have occurred.

Today many peacekeepers remain fighting for recognition and entitlements. One Hobart man who was part of a small UN contingent in the Middle East, during the Lebanese War, has been battling government departments for over 15 years for reclassification – a single voice ignored and his case constantly overlooked.

The Australian public better understands PTSD cases from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not so cases suffered by those from peacekeeping, including border protection retrieving bodies and survivors off northern Australia – a result of a failed government policy.

The Peacekeeper Mental Health Study was released in October, 2014, after taking six years to complete.

The APPVA lobbied for this study, as a concern that many peacekeeper veterans who served in Rwanda, Cambodia, Somalia and were reporting high levels of mental illness.

The report identified a very high rate of mental illness in peacekeeping veterans, almost on par with Vietnam veterans.

Many peacekeeping veterans suffer a number of potential traumatic events, due to the inability to intervene due to the restrictive rules of engagement.

Many veterans are traumatised as a result of a range of violent events, serving in a malevolent environment, along with stress of combat situations or in humanitarian crises with significant death and injury tolls.

Peacekeeping operations have cost this nation 48 ADF and four police lives.

There are few welcome-home parades and scant public recognition, with anniversaries like Rwanda slipping past unnoticed.

The bureaucrats in Canberra quashed an APPVA proposition for recognition of the unique nature of peacekeeping service through an Australian Peacekeeping Medal.

The 70th Anniversary of Peacekeeping in 2017 is not on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website calendar amid significant commemorative anniversaries over the next four years.

On Saturday, Tasmania’s small peacekeeping community of police, ADF and civilians will gather at the Anglesea Barracks Peacekeeping Memorial for the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.

The Anglesea memorial is unique in design – a peacekeeper walking over broken ground carrying a child, inspired by the image of SAS medic Jonathan Church carrying a child away from Kibeho.

The memorial bears testament to the contribution, commitment and sacrifice of those police, defence members and civilians who at times placed themselves in harm’s way to make the world a safer place – sometimes around the failures of the United Nations.

As the 70th anniversary of Australia’s enduring mission approaches, it is timely for the public and governments to remember that the nation’s peacekeepers are indeed veterans worthy of recognition.

NOTE this article was published on June 4th.

Tasmanian Phil Pyke is a veteran with service in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor and Solomon Islands. He is a member of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association (Tas) and Returned and Services League (Tas) and was a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Ex-Service Matters between 2008-2013.

I am pleased to say that we are currently sending quilts to all the countries where our Peacekeepers serve.  Let’s keep ALL our deployed serving members in our thoughts.  They all deserve our support and respect in equal measure.

Till next time…………….keep spreading the word and happy stitching!
Jan-Maree xx

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1 Comment

  1. Sue Niven

    A very moving piece, All serving members should be treated equally, You are all in my thoughts.


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