UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid a wreath at the world body's headquarters in New York to pay homage to the more than 4,200 peacekeepers who lost their lives since 1948, and presided over a ceremony to honor the 117 peacekeepers who died last year.
At an in-person ceremony on Thursday held for the first time in three years, Guterres awarded the Dag Hammarskjold Medal posthumously to the 117 fallen peacekeepers, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Our peacekeepers face great and growing challenges," said the UN chief.
"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."
The Secretary-General awarded the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal, the UN's highest award for valour, posthumously to Chadian Capt. Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar. The late captain's father received the medal on his behalf. Capt. Abdelrazakh had been deployed with the Chadian military contingent as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. He and other peacekeepers were stationed in a remote camp when they were targeted.
"Heavy artillery fire, including rockets, rained down on their camp during this cowardly attack. As the situation deteriorated, Capt. Abdelrazakh and his commanding officer bravely counter-attacked to protect their teams. As he worked to secure the perimeter, Capt. Abdelrazakh noticed attackers entering a house near the base. Determined to stop them from doing more harm, he set out, on his own, to evacuate and secure the house. It was then that Capt. Abdelrazakh was shot dead," said Guterres at the ceremony.
Three other Chadian peacekeepers also died and 34 were injured. But, without the courage of Capt. Abdelrazakh, many other people would have lost their lives that day. This is a true example of self-sacrifice, said Guterres.
"Capt. Abdelrazakh Hamit Bahar was only 34 years old. But his actions revealed an extraordinary humanity and bravery that we will never forget." It is only the second time the UN Security Council-authorized Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal has been awarded. The medal was named in honor of Senegalese Capt. Mbaye Diagne. He saved hundreds of lives while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda in 1994 before being killed in action.
Guterres also awarded a Letter of Commendation to Lt-Col. Chahata Ali Mahamat, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Capt. Abdelrazakh and helped evacuate 16 wounded colleagues.
At the ceremony, Guterres presented the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award for 2021 to Maj. Winnet Zharare of Zimbabwe.
Thursday's events formed the annual observance of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, which falls on May 29.