Hollywood star George Clooney took up his new role as UN messenger of peace today.
The 46-year-old actor arrived at the United Nations in New York, joking and shaking hands as he stepped past hundreds of curious UN employees.
Clooney provided a morale boost and some light-hearted Hollywood glamour to the serious work of diplomacy as he toured UN headquarters for a ceremony.
He was just back from a two-week trip to 19 locations in Sudan’s Darfur region, the Central African Republic, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, arriving back in the US by way of India, a major contributor of UN peacekeeping troops, UN officials said.
“Each conflict zone has difficulties that are unique, but there’s always one unifying thread: the worst atrocities are saved for the poorest and most vulnerable,” Clooney told a news conference.
“This body has a habit of referring to itself as a collective of individual states. You’re much more than that. You are the United Nations. You’re an entity all to yourselves. When I stood in the hospital next to women who had been raped and set on fire two days earlier, they looked up to me and said, ’Please send the UN’. Not the US, China, not Russia. Just the UN. You’re their only hope.”
As the ninth UN peace envoy, the Oscar winner was selected for his ability to focus public attention on critical international political and social issues.
He told reporters it was a tremendous honour for him. As he spoke his parents, Nick and Nina Clooney, accompanying him throughout the day, beamed with obvious pride.
“I am very proud to be here as a messenger of peace, and the message is: That the world is watching, and that at this point we cannot afford to fail,” he said. “There’s a lot more responsibility with this one than with an Oscar, which all you really have to do is, you know, drink after the party.”
Clooney took on the job of promoting the world body’s peacekeeping missions after waging his own campaigns for an end to the four-and-a-half-year war in Darfur and for more humanitarian aid for the millions caught up in the conflict.
He said he plans to focus his attention on Darfur and other spots he knows best, but has ambitions to travel broadly in his UN role.
“The Sudanese government hoped to show us that they’d been unfairly treated by the international community,” he recounted. “As we travelled to north, south and west Darfur... there was not one man, woman or child at any of these camps, at any of these locations, that didn’t hold the government of Sudan or its janjaweed-supported militia responsible for them being displaced, not one.
“Millions are homeless, not from famine, or disease, or acts of God, but from a well-armed militia intent on ridding the land of its people.”
On his first trip this month as a UN messenger of peace, he joined Jane Holl Lute, the assistant secretary general of peacekeeping operations, as part of “a technical assessment mission” visiting the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur and the UN missions in the other nations.
“It was planned in secret for obvious security reasons, and worse yet they might have seen some of my films,” he said. “I am the son of a newsman, so the job of messenger comes with the responsibility to deal with facts, not to tell people what they want to hear, but to tell them what the truth is, unfiltered.”
His low-key demeanour and impeccable dark suit and tie contrasted both with the intensity of his message and rowdy shouts and snaps of cameras and mobile phones as he moved through hallways, escorted by tight security. Much of his day was spent shuttling between UN offices, a windowless press conference and back-to-back interviews with news media organisations.
Other messengers of peace are Michael Douglas, Elie Wiesel, Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim, Paulo Coelho, Midori Goto and Princess Haya of Jordan.