Today, as we commemorate twenty-seven years since the horrifying acts of the Rwandan genocide, and as we continue the fight to both prevent and stop atrocity around the world, I would like to recount the heroism of Mbaye Diagne.

A soldier in the Senegalese Army, Diagne served as an unarmed military observer in Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, first working under the Organization for African Unity and then under the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda.

2/17 Picture of Mbaye Diagne.
On this day in 1994, after Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband were murdered in their home at the start of the genocide, Diagne risked his life to rescue their five children, who remained in hiding.

3/17 Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana with two of her childre
Smuggling them through multiple Interahamwe checkpoints, he ultimately ferried them to safety outside of the country.

That was only the beginning. While many other members of the beleaguered UN observer team deserted their mission, Diagne went on to save many more lives.

He violated UN rules of engagement to carry out rescue missions all over the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Going out alone in his vehicle, he would find Tutsis and moderate Hutus to bring back to safety before they would be murdered.

5/17 Picture of Mbaye Diagne.
In one episode, he confronted an armed Hutu priest (yes, many Hutu clergy actively participated in the genocide) who was about to execute a woman named Concilie Mukamwezi.

As the priest, backed up by four militiamen, pointed his Kalashnikov at Mukamwezi, Diagne ran over.

Placing himself between the priest and Mukamwezi, he screamed, “Why are you killing this woman? You must not do this because if you do the whole world will know.”

Mukamwezi’s life was spared.

7/17 Concilie Mukamwezi, whose life was saved by Diagne.
In another instance, as a militia stopped a rescue convoy that Diagne had organized, he stood between the convoy and the militiamen, shouting, “You cannot kill these people, they are my responsibility. I will not allow you to harm them—you’ll have to kill me first.”

Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo, who was on one of the lorries in the convoy, recalled, “What really struck me was that he seemed far more worried about us than he had been about himself. He was a hero.”

9/17 Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo, who was on a rescue convoy that Diag
Diagne loved to joke around. He used his humor and charm, along with bribes in the form of cash and alcohol—even though he was a devout Muslim—to defuse tense situations and make his way through dangerous checkpoints.

Tragically, on May 31, 1994, just twelve days before he was to return home, Diagne was killed by a mortar shell that hit an army checkpoint where he was stopped.

11/17 A small parade by UNAMIR personnel honoring Diagne after his
Diagne is thought to have saved hundreds of lives, if not more. One of nine children, Diagne was the first in his family to attend university. He was married, with a son and daughter.

12/17 Diagne and his wife, Yacine Mar Diop.
Amidst the indescribable evil and horror of the genocide, Diagne was a lone light of hope—his acts a reminder of humanity’s profound capacity for goodness.

Diagne did not have to do what he did. He was not even serving his own country.

But, for Diagne, it was always about something deeper. He was serving humanity itself.

Diagne has received numerous posthumous honors, including the rank of Knight in Senegal’s National Order of the Lion and Rwanda’s Campaign Against Genocide Medal. In 2014, the UN established the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage.

15/17 Diagne's wife receiving the first Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal
Diagne is not merely a hero to be celebrated—he is a hero to be emulated. The world needs more Mbaye Diagne’s. So if you ever have the chance to save even one life, do it. Each day, in ways both small and large, we all can choose to be a little bit more like Mbaye Diagne.

And as we continue to confront ongoing and potential genocides around the world, the best we can do to honor the victims of genocide is to act early, to stand up for what is right, and to remain unswerving in our pursuit of truth, justice, and freedom.


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2/ Amin at his swearing-in.
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