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He was born in Mestre on 7 May 1939 as the fifth of seven children. At age 15 he joined his father who had emigrated to Zaire. He had his first experience of African wars in 1960 in Bukavu, where he successfully transported groups of Congolese refugees across Lake Kivu. After a revolt called the Simba Rebellion broke out, he moved to newly independent Rwanda where he lived until 1994. Today he divides himself between Kigali and Brussels.
During the Rwandan genocide, Pierantonio Costa was the Italian Consul in Kigali. From 6 April to 21 July 1994, Costa first saved Italians and Westerners, then he moved to his brother's property in Burundi and from there he travelled a lot across Rwanda in an unfaltering effort to rescue the people. For this purpose he used his diplomatic role, his network of friendships and acquaintances and his own money (more than 3 million dollars) to get exit permits for those who asked him for help.
By the end of the genocide he had rescued 2,000 people, including 375 children.
He was awarded a gold medal for civil value by the Italian government and received a similar decoration from the Belgian authorities.
This is how he described his deeds: “In the midst of so much violence and suffering, I just did what I had to do. That’s all”.
His story was recorded by journalist Luciano Scalettari, who said:” In my opinion, he is a righteous man, in the sense that the Jews attribute to this term”. Pierantonio Costa replied: ”I only answered the voice of my conscience. When there is something that has to be done, you just get on with it”.
P. Costa–L. Scalettari, La lista del console, published by Paoline, Milan, 2004 ISBN 88-315-2641-3