An Analysis of UN Peacekeeping Fatalities


Originally published in Center on International Cooperation, Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2008, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder and London, 2008, p.70. (pdf)


Since 1948, over 2,400 peacekeepers have made the “supreme sacrifice” while serving in UN operations. Thus, the UN has suffered a historic average of 40 fatalities of uniformed and civilian peacekeepers a year. A more precise analysis reveals significant variations and trends that may help identify the causes and, hopefully, help prevent future loses.

With the end of the Cold War and the advent of modern multi-dimensional peacekeeping, the number of deployed peacekeepers jumped from the traditional level of about 10,000 to a peak almost eight times that number. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities experienced an even greater jump. The year 1993 was the worst year for peacekeeping fatalities in UN history. In the dangerous operations in Somalia, Bosnia and Cambodia and other UN locations, 225 personnel lost their lives, about half from malicious acts. Fortunately, the situation in peacekeeping has improved tremendously since 1993. In 2006, there were 107 deaths, even though the number of peacekeepers in the field was 10% greater than in 1993.  Malicious acts accounted for only 16 percent while illness had become the prime killer (57 percent) for both military and civilian personnel. Accidents accounted for most of the remaining 27 percent.

The annual fatality rate for uniformed personnel has declined steadily since 1993, when it was 3.30 deaths per 1,000 serving, to 0.97 in 2006 and an even smaller rate (0.47) is projected for 2007. This encouraging trend is particularly pronounced in the new century: as the number of uniformed peacekeepers increased five-fold from 2000, the number of fatalities did not rise accordingly and even declined in recent years (see figure below).

For civilians working in UN operations, unfortunately, the same trend is not observed. The fatality rate for international civilians increased from 1.0 in 2000 to 2.2 in 2006 with a spike in 2003 (to 5.6) due to the Baghdad bombing. The rates for UN personnel hired locally are even higher (2.6 in 2006). Thus, it is more risky to be a civilian in the field than to be a soldier. In 2006, the fatality rate for civilians was more than double that of uniformed personnel.

Over UN history, fatalities have been significant for both the developed and developing world. India, followed by Canada, has suffered the most military fatalities (122 and 114, respectively, to the end of 2006). America and Argentina have experienced the greatest number of UN police fatalities (12). For international civilians, Americans, followed by Indians, head the list (12 and 7, respectively). The 2006 overall fatality rate for the developing world was, however, 77 percent higher than for the developed world, mostly on account of illness. With almost 90% of the troops in the field from the developing world, the UN would do well to directly address the issue of illness.

The UN is regularly forced to present the Dag Hammarskjold medal to the families of those who died while on mission. It is one medal the UN would prefer not to give out. A more thorough analysis of fatality statistics might help make it less frequent.




DyingForPeace2 rate


* the 2007 figures are extrapolated from DPKO data available as of 30 September 2007


Author: Walter Dorn is a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and a consultant to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.