15 June 2007

Indian Major General I. J. Rikhye who died on May 21 at the University of Virginia Hospital, was an exemplary peacekeeper and a talented internationalist whose commitment was solely for the United Nations and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Born in Lahore, now a city in Pakistan, he was the son of a medical officer in the British Indian army. General Rikhye's 38-year career was marked by his courage, dedication and practical involvement in peacekeeping which required his physical presence at some of the most dangerous spots in today's world. He had his own views and expressed them clearly, but when decisions were made by the Secretary-GeneraL, he followed them exactly. He first played a key role in the 1960's when he led the U.N. force in the Congo, then took over the leadership of the U.N. Emergency Force by the Suez Canal. It was at that time that General Rikhye received an indication that Egypt would wish to withdraw the troops which he informed the Secretary-General. Before withdrawing, some of the troops were shelled killing several Indian peacekeepers. He moved his troops to a Gaza beachhead where he regrouped and continued negotiations until the Secretary-General was able to arrange for a safe exit. After the 1967 war, General Rikhye resigned his post most likely feeling that the U.N. peacekeeping role was being challenged and focused more on training soldiers and diplomats on peacekeeping and peacemaking. He established and was the first head of the International Peace Academy. His new initiative was strongly supported by the Secretary-General, U Thant, who urged all U.N. departments to work closely with the newly established institute and most seminars and gatherings were done in close collaboration with the U.N. The current status of that Academy is a telling indication of our retreating times.

Though very skeptical of current U.N. peacekeeping, he still defended its principle and thought that its saving grace justified the involvement and the expense. He was with U Thant during the Cuban Missile Crisis between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and was fond of telling the story of how the two superpowers were having their own versions of events while they knew better. He would imitate how U Thant inspected the missiles in Havana and came back to New York to mediate an acceptable outcome between Moscow and Washington. Perhaps some of the arrangements made at the time will never be disclosed. Despite General Rikhye's recounting of movements, he never really came out with the substance. Incidentally, one of those who were under his command at a certain time in the Indian Army was the former president of Pakistan, General Zia, who made a coup in his country. General Rikhye always commented that here he was, the commander who thought of himself as the tougher guy, doing peaceful work, while the apparently peaceful lieutenant had done a military coup. As a colonel he led the Indian contingent in Gaza before going to Congo upon the instruction of the Secretary-General. When Secretary-General Hammarskj÷ld died in 1961, General Rikhye reported to his successor and became one of the major advisors to the new Secretary-General.

He was very open to the media as he recognized its importance in covering conflicts and was able to deal with them without giving away his strategic work. He also liked music and headed the United Nations symphony. General Rikhye explained his background by indicating that he was motivated by Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent social change, Nehru's doctrine of non-alignment and Hammarskj÷ld's advocacy of the role of the international organizations in promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and strengthening the international system for the maintenance of peace and security. We extend our condolences to his wife and family.