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UN creates medal to honor ‘exceptional courage’

May 9, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to establish a U.N. medal for “exceptional courage” in the name of an unarmed U.N. peacekeeper from Senegal who lost his life after saving hundreds of Rwandans from death in the 1994 genocide.

In a rare display of emotion in the council, Rwanda’s U.N. Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana broke down in tears in the council chamber after calling Captain Mbaye Diagne “a hero” who went against orders to save lives during the 100-day slaughter.

“In the face of evil, he refused to be a bystander,” Gasana said. “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 a thousand Rwandans.”

Gasana referred to the U.N.’s failure to stop the genocide in which more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu majority were killed by Hutu extremists. He expressed hope that the medal would lead to “soul-searching” by the world body to ensure that in the future humanity isn’t only protected “by the courage of exceptional individuals” like the 36-year-old military observer.

The resolution, sponsored by Jordan, creates “the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” to be awarded to U.N. military, police, civilians and associated personnel “who demonstrate exceptional courage, in the face of extreme danger.” It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to design the medal within six months and submit recommendations for nominating and selecting recipients to the council.

Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein also delivered an emotional speech, addressing Diagne’s family and saying it was “shameful” that no official from U.N. headquarters ever called after he was killed.

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

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