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Remarks by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal Ceremony

19 May 2016
Ban Ki-Moon

We are here on a historic occasion: the inaugural Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal ceremony.

I am pleased to see so many representatives of Member States and UN staff, including the Force Commanders of all of our peacekeeping operations. Thank you for your participation and commitment.

During nearly 70 years of UN peacekeeping, more than one million men and women have deployed under our blue flag. The overwhelming majority served with great distinction and honour.

But one man, Captain Mbaye Diagne of Senegal, truly set himself apart. He showed incredible heroism while carrying out the noblest goals of the United Nations – preserving peace and protecting the most vulnerable.

Two years ago, the United Nations Security Council created the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage.

This Medal is for military, police or civilian United Nations personnel and associated personnel who follow in the tradition of Captain Diagne. They must demonstrate exceptional courage in the face of extreme danger while fulfilling their mandate in the service of humanity and the United Nations.

The medal could not have been named after a more courageous man.

Captain Diagne served with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the genocide. He did not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. He did not ignore his conscience or walk away in fear. He acted from his heart. He was exceptionally courageous. While the world failed to act to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, Captain Diagne was fearless in saving as many lives as he could.

He put his own life at risk to rescue hundreds of men, women and children. He bravely and secretly brought them to safety. He hid them in his UN vehicle. And he used his charm, wits and steely nerve to get them past checkpoints and roadblocks that were armed by murderous thugs.

If he had been caught, he and his passengers very likely would have been killed on the spot. To do what he did once or twice would be courageous. To do it dozens of times was truly outstanding.

In May 1994, just weeks before the end of his assignment in Rwanda, Captain Diagne was unfortunately killed by a mortar round on the way to Mission headquarters.

That day his family lost a loving husband and father. The world lost a hero.

This medal helps ensure that Captain Diagne and those who follow in his footsteps will always be remembered by the United Nations and the people of the world.

And now, I’m truly honoured and deeply humbled to present the very first Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal to his family, who graced us with their presence here today.

Thank you. Merci.