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UN Honors Senegalese Peacekeeper with Courage Medal

An undated reproduction photo shows Mbaye Diagne, a young Senegalese captain who saved the lives of people during the Rwanda genocide.
The United Nations has created a medal to be awarded to U.N. peacekeepers and civilian staff demonstrating great courage. The medal is being named for an heroic Senegalese peacekeeper who died saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Captain Mbaye Diagne distinguished himself during the dark days of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, in just 100 days.

The 36-year-old captain, husband and father of two was an unarmed military observer in the U.N. mission in Rwanda.

Rwanda’s U.N. Ambassador Eugene Gasana said Thursday that in the face of evil, Captain Diagne refused to be a bystander.

“With no gun, no weapons, armed only with courage and a sense of responsibility, Captain Diagne decided to conduct several missions going through dozens of checkpoints held by armed militias to save hundreds - maybe thousands - of Rwandans during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” he said.

On May 31, 1994, Diagne’s work ended when a mortar round exploded at a checkpoint near his car. He was hit by shrapnel and died instantly.

The Rwandan genocide was also a dark period for the United Nations and the international community, which failed to forcefully intervene to stop the killing.

Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al-Hussein said the fact that no U.N. official at headquarters ever called the captain’s family after his death “can only be described as shameful.”

“I am absolutely sure everyone here would join me when I say we are sorry - profoundly sorry - for the way you have been treated by us here at the U.N,” he said.

The award, to be known as the “Captain Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” will be presented to U.N. military, police and civilian personnel who “demonstrate exceptional courage, in the face of extreme danger” while fulfilling the mandate of their mission in the service of the United Nations and humanity.

The medal was established in a resolution put forward by Jordan and adopted unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.