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26 May 2022

Secretary-General Honours Peacekeepers’ Courage, at Dag Hammarskjöld Medal Ceremony, Presents Military Gender Advocate Award to Champion for South Sudanese Women

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal Ceremony and the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award event, in New York today:

Moments ago, I laid a wreath at the Peacekeepers Memorial to pay homage to the more than 4,200 peacekeepers who sacrificed their lives while serving under the United Nations flag.  Please join me in a moment of silence in their memory.

Thank you.  This year’s Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony honours the 117 women and men who lost their lives in 2021 serving as peacekeepers.  Our fallen colleagues came from 42 different countries and diverse backgrounds.  But, they were united by a common cause: peace.  I extend my deepest condolences to their families.  They will remain forever in our hearts.

The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is an opportunity to honour the women and men on the front lines advancing peace around the world.  We also pay tribute to the families who support their loved ones as they carry out these vital, difficult and dangerous missions, far from home.

Our peacekeepers face great and growing challenges:  increasing political tensions; deteriorating security situations; ever-more complex threats — from terrorist attacks to organized crime to improvised explosive devices; and a surge in mis- and disinformation that spreads hatred and fuels violence.

Despite these risks, our peacekeepers press on.  They work tirelessly in the toughest of conditions.  They adapt to rapidly evolving situations on the ground.  And they constantly innovate to protect the most vulnerable — while representing our diverse global community.  They advance the greatest mission of all — peace.  I am so proud of their work.

Tragically, sometimes, our peacekeepers do not come home.  One colleague who made the ultimate sacrifice is Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar.  Captain Abdelrazakh was deployed with the Chadian military contingent to our peacekeeping mission in Mali.  He and other peacekeepers were serving in a remote camp when they came under attack.  Heavy artillery fire, including rocket-propelled grenades, rained down on the camp during this cowardly assault.  With the situation deteriorating, Captain Abdelrazakh and his commanding officer led a courageous counterattack to protect fellow peacekeepers.

While working to secure the perimeter, Captain Abdelrazakh noticed armed assailants enter a house near the base.  Determined to prevent them from causing further harm, he single-handedly led an operation to clear and secure the house.  In undertaking this mission, Captain Abdelrazakh was shot and killed.

Tragically, three other Blue Helmets from Chad also died, and 34 were wounded.  If not for Captain Abdelrazakh’s bravery, more lives would have been lost that day.  His conduct truly embodies the value of putting “others before self”.

Today, I am proud to posthumously honour Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar with the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage.  As you know, this medal bears the name of a Senegalese peacekeeper who sacrificed his life in Rwanda in 1994 to save countless others.  Since its creation by the Security Council in 2014, it has been conferred only once.

Captain Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar was just 34 years old.  But, his actions revealed an extraordinary humanity and bravery that we will never forget.  His family are with us today and we are deeply grateful.  Please know that your loved son and brother will always be remembered.  He is an inspiration to the United Nations family, at home in Chad and around the world.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the Government of Chad for its contribution to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  The country has paid a great price, with 74 peacekeepers giving their lives to the cause of peace over the years.

I am proud to have also awarded a Letter of Commendation to Lieutenant-Colonel Chahata Ali Mahamat, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Captain Abdelrazakh that day and helped evacuate 16 wounded colleagues.  I have also awarded commendation letters to Sergeant Cristofer Jose Citan Ramos of Guatemala, serving with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); and Captain Mohammad Mahatab Uddin of Bangladesh, serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  They both demonstrated tremendous courage in carrying out their work and I congratulate them.

Each year, we also recognize the outstanding contribution of an individual military peacekeeper who goes above and beyond the call of duty to promote the principles of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  Today, I am proud to present the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Major Winnet Zharare of Zimbabwe.

Major Zharare recently completed her service as a military observer with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.  While deployed in Bentiu, she saw first‑hand the enormous toll of armed conflict on entire communities.  She witnessed how women were even more vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, displacement and hunger.  She observed how, like in so many parts of the world, women and girls were excluded from decisions about their daily lives, as well as political and peace processes.  And she took action.

For years, Major Zharare had strongly advocated for gender equality and the recognition of women as decision-makers and leaders — she called for parity within her own ranks, and among local military forces and host communities.  In South Sudan, her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained the trust of local military commanders who sought her advice on women’s rights and protection.  Her approach helped UNMISS strengthen bonds with local communities and deliver on its mandate.

Women peacekeepers make a profound difference.  They help the United Nations do its job more inclusively and effectively.  They save and change lives.  That is why we are constantly striving to increase the number of women in peace operations — whether military, police or civilian — and reach gender parity everywhere.  Today, I thank Major Zharare and all women peacekeepers for their service.

And thank all of you for joining us as we honour all peacekeepers for their vital work in supporting peace around the world.

For information media. Not an official record.