When Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar announced to his family in early 2005 that he had found his calling to serve his country, no one was surprised. The young man had always dreamt of joining the Chad National Army, inspired by those around him, including his uncle, a seasoned military personnel.
In the Bahar Haggar family, career paths may have been diverse, but the golden rule was excellence. It ook a few years of convincing, but Captain Abdelrazakh’s father eventually agreed to let him join the military, provided he made it into Chad's best military school.
After he graduated with honours and successfully completed a wide array of specialized training, ranging from parachuting to tactical skills and intelligence gathering, Captain Abdelrazakh felt the need to fulfill his passion for helping others. In 2014 he decided to join MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
“Growing up, I knew my brother was going to join the military, but his real calling was to help others. He was a kind and giving man. He used to organize tournaments for the young people in the neighbourhood and would give out prizes to winners and losers alike,” his brother Hamid Bahar Ahmat fondly recalls.
On Thursday, 26 May, the Bahar family will receive the highest award in UN peacekeeping, the ‘Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage’, on behalf of Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be presenting the award posthumously at a solemn ceremony in New York to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
Just 14 months ago on 2 April 2021, a group of heavily armed terrorists attacked the Aguelhok Super Camp in north-east Mali with a barrage of rockets at sunrise, where Captain Abdelrazakh was one among the 350 peacekeepers stationed there to protect the population.
Without hesitation, the Captain launched a counter-offensive on the two dozen assailants, who subsequently stormed through the base fence on jeeps and motorbikes, just minutes later.
While the fire-fight ensued, Captain Abdelrazakh saw some terrorists entering a home nearby.
To protect civilians from the local community living near the camp, he single-handedly led an operation to clear the house.
In doing so, Captain Abdelrazakh was shot and killed. But not before the peacekeepers had inflicted heavy losses on the fleeing terrorists and saved many lives in the process.
Among Captain Abdelrazakh’s brothers-in-arms was his commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Chahata Ali Mahamat, who co-led the operation and helped evacuate 16 wounded peacekeepers.
Lieutenant-Colonel Chahata Ali Mahamat will be recognized for his courage and role in the operation with a Letter of Commendation from the UN Secretary-General.
He remembers his countryman warmly: “He was not only a great soldier, he was profoundly human. He could get along with anyone and he was deeply loved both in Mali and at home. I miss him deeply,” the Lieutenant-Colonel said.
Three other UN Peacekeepers from Chad were killed in the attack and 34 others were wounded; had it not been for the courageous actions of the Commander and the Captain, many more would undoubtedly have died.
Since his death, the Bahar Haggar family has found it very difficult to cope with the loss.
“Last year, I was preparing my thesis for my PHD and left my phone. Within 15 minutes I had gotten 30 missed calls. I knew something was wrong. I had never felt that pain before. I wish he could have been there to see me succeed,” says Hamid.
“My brother was the one who pushed me to study and supported me throughout. But I know he died for a noble cause, he died to protect peace,” he adds.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which was established in 2013 by the UN Security Council, is UN peacekeeping’s deadliest operation, facing near daily attacks.
Peacekeepers supporting international efforts to build peace and stability in Mali are increasingly subjected to ambushes and complex attacks using explosive devices by terrorist groups, like the one in Aguelhok.
“Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar’s ultimate sacrifice embodies a high sense of duty,” said Special Representative of the Secretary-general and Head of MINUSMA, M. El-Ghassim Wane. “He put his own life on the line to save the people of Aguelhok and his comrades-in-arms on that fateful day of 2 April 2021. His bravery is a daily source of inspiration for all MINUSMA personnel, who operate in an environment of endless complexity and difficulty.”
Deliberate attacks against peacekeepers have increased and killed almost 500 UN peacekeepers in a little over 10 years across peace operations. In Mali, 157 peacekeepers have lost their lives since the Mission’s inception, with 19 killed in 2021 alone.
Attacks targeting UN peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.
Safety and security of peacekeepers is at the heart of the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping agenda launched in 2018, and its implementation strategy, A4P+. Collective actions taken by the UN and Member States have enabled important progress in protecting personnel from these threats and in holding perpetrators accountable for crimes.
Upon receiving the news of the award at his home in N'Djamena, Captain Abdelrazakh’s brother told UN Peacekeeping he felt a mix of emotions of deep pain and pride.
“I am very moved by the recognition given to my brother today. I am so proud of him,” he said. “While I know he left us way too young, his memory is honoured today by his friends and comrades in the United Nations, Mali and the Chadian army, and all of us who know he gave his life to protect others. Men pass but their merits remain. May the world always remember him.”
Hamid Bahar Ahmat shared that when asked why he wanted to serve as a peacekeeper, Captain Abdelrazakh often said: “A soldier is always serving his nation and, therefore, his role is also to serve his nation around the world.”
About the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage”
The medal was named in honour of Captain Mbaye Diagne who saved hundreds of lives while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda in 1994, before he was killed in action. In 2014, it was established by the UN Security Council as an official award to recognize uniformed and civilian peacekeepers who demonstrate exceptional courage. This year is only the second time that the Medal has been awarded.