Three Indian peacekeepers who died in the service of the UN have been honoured with the Dag Hammarskjold Medal amid calls for better protection for personnel in its missions.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres handed over the awards to India's Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj at a ceremony in the General Assembly chamber on Thursday.
Border Security Force Head Constables Shishupal Singh and Samwala Ram Vishnoi were killed in July 2022 while with the peacekeeping operation known by its French initials as MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
A civilian, Shabir Tahir Ali, died while serving with the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.
"We will never forget their contributions", Guterres said.
"Today, for civilians caught in the hell of conflict, our Blue Helmets are a beacon of hope and protection," he said.
"They represent the beating heart of the United Nations' commitment to peace," he said.
Before the ceremony, Kamboj said in a video message, "The medal is the highest honour awarded to UN peacekeepers who have distinguished themselves by exceptional courage, devotion to duty and sacrifice in the cause of peace."
Recalling India's role as the country that has historically sent the most number of peacekeepers to UN operations - over 275,000 to 51 missions - she said, "Sadly this has also entailed the supreme sacrifice in the finest traditions of the profession of the arms."
Reflecting on the dangers peacekeepers face in Guterres said, "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 (A4P+) strategy."
Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN peacekeeping operations, said, "One area which is critically important to us is accountability for crimes committed against peacekeepers."
"India took the lead in promoting progress on the issue and I believe that it's very important to make sure that there will be accountability for these crimes," he said at a news conference.
In December last year, India launched the Group of Friends to promote accountability for crimes against peacekeepers with Bangladesh, Egypt, France, Morocco and Nepal as co-chairs.
The group advocates for bringing to justice those committing crimes against peacekeepers.
External Affairs Minister, who inaugurated the group, said that as a part of the initiative a database of crimes against peacekeepers will be created.
After the killing of the two Indian peacekeepers in the DRC, the Security Council reiterated that attacks on UN peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.
US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, "Peacekeepers today are facing unprecedented threats, including direct attacks and the malicious spread of disinformation targeted to disrupt their missions."
She said that the US was committed to "ensuring UN peacekeepers have what they need to be safe, secure, and successful in carrying out their missions".
The two BSF personnel were stationed at a camp of the Moroccan Rapid Deployment Force in Butembo in Eastern DRC.
During a protest outside the base, "violent attackers snatched weapons from Congolese police and fired upon our uniformed personnel", according to a UN spokesperson.
A Moroccan peacekeeper was also killed and several were injured in the attack.
Thirty-two Indian peacekeepers have been killed while serving in UN peacekeeping missions in the DRC.