Press Releases

    PI/1427
    19 June 2002

    UN Messengers of Peace, Goodwill Ambassadors Share Experiences, As Two-Day Meeting on Celebrity Advocacy Opens

    NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- "Your presence here today shows vividly that when it comes to working together for a better world, there is no divide between civilizations", Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the opening session of the Meeting of United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace this morning.

    The two-day meeting entitled, "Celebrity Advocacy for the New Millennium", is the second time the group is meeting at Headquarters, the first being almost two years ago. Forty-eight prominent persons, from 27 countries, from the worlds of art, film, music, sports, literature and public affairs have come together to participate in workshops, share information on the priorities of the United Nations system and discuss ways for lending greater impetus to the Millennium Development Goals.

    Their presence, continued the Secretary-General, also showed that the message they would take back to their various audiences and constituencies was truly universal. That message could be summed up in the Millennium Declaration, agreed on by all the world's countries two years ago as a blueprint for improving people's lives in the twenty-first century. While it was up to national leaders to put it in practice, governments needed to hear the voices of those who insisted that they translate those pledges into action. That was where the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace came in, whose commitment to peace reflected their true "star quality".

    Welcoming the "Goodwill Group", Gillian Sorensen, Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations, said that from the beginning, they had been advocates and spokesmen, bringing attention and hope to those most in need. The purpose of the meeting was to deepen their understanding of the United Nations, to strengthen their connection to the entire United Nations system and to reinforce their confidence in promoting the Organization's work.

    The celebrity advocates speak out for the United Nations and nine of its offices, funds and programmes on issues ranging from fighting HIV/AIDS to improving the status of women and protecting children and refugees. During a segment entitled, "Voices", several of them expressed how rewarding it had been for them to serve in their respective capacities and shared personal experiences.

    One of the most challenging and inspiring aspects of her role as a Goodwill Ambassador was to create a deeper understanding of the linkages which existed between global policies and local realities, noted Princess Basma Bint Talal of Jordan, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In her desperately troubled region, the efforts of those organizations had created opportunities, choices and hope.

    Equally impressed with the work of the Organization, Vijay Amritraj, former tennis player from India and Messenger of Peace, remarked that one of the things that struck him during his visit to the earthquake-ravaged State of Gujarat in India was how quickly the United Nations agencies could mobilize their forces and work under the most stressful and difficult conditions.

    Several speakers shared the circumstances surrounding their introduction to and involvement with the United Nations. Takehito Nakata of Japan, Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Volunteers (UNV), poignantly told of how he joined UNV following the death of his son, who was serving as a United Nations Volunteer in Cambodia. His soul-searching on how to turn that tragedy into something positive led him to the decision to follow in his son's footsteps.

    When George McGovern, former Senator and United States Ambassador and Goodwill Ambassador for the World Food Programme (WFP), remarked that when he was asked to serve as United States Ambassador to that Rome-based agency five years ago, he thought at first that it was a dead end job for former failed presidential candidates. He soon realized the job had been tailor-made for his interests and passion. His passion was that the United Nations, working through WFP and non-governmental organizations, would provide a good nutritious lunch every day for every schoolchild in the world.

    Also speaking at the opening session were Harry Belafonte, on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Dikembe Mutombo, on behalf of UNDP; Mary Banotti, on behalf of UNFPA; Mechai Viravaidya, on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); and Angelina Jolie, on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    Background

    The Meeting of United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace this morning was expected to hear opening statements from the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations, Gillian Sorensen, Harry Belafonte, Princess Basma Bint Talal, Vijay Amritraj, Dikembe Mutombo, Mary Banotti, Mechai Viravaidya, Takehito Nakata, Angelina Jolie, and George McGovern.

    For more background information, see the press release of the briefing on the subject on 12 June 2002.

    Statements

    GILLIAN SORENSEN, Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations, welcomed the participants, saying that some of them had travelled 10,000 miles to be here today. Goodwill Ambassadors had a long history beginning in the 1960s with such personalities as Danny Kaye, Audrey Hepburn and Peter Ustinov. From the beginning, they had been advocates and spokesmen, bringing attention and hope to those most in need. Today, 48 Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace from 27 countries were present, bringing experience and talent from many fields. All were activists committed to the goals of the United Nations. They were able with their voices to reach a larger public.

    The purpose of the second such meeting, she said, was to deepen their understanding of the United Nations, to strengthen their connection to the entire United Nations system and to reinforce their confidence in promoting the work of the United Nations.

    Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN apologized for opening on a somber note. He said this morning there had been another desperate act of terror in Israel. "My sorrow could not be deeper for all the families touched by the tragedy", he said, condemning the act. No cause could justify taking innocent lives. It was one more reason to work harder to bring peace to that tragic region.

    Welcoming the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace, he said this meeting would help them to gain a deeper understanding of the work of the United Nations. It was just as important, however, that the meeting help people at the United Nations to learn how the Organization might make its message more effective. It was on people as much as governments that the United Nations depended for support.

    The Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace could connect with people practically everywhere on earth, he said, in particular, they could capture the attention and imagination of young people, to instil in them the values of understanding, solidarity, respect and communication across all cultures, the very ideals the United Nations stood for. In the two years since the first gathering, a great deal had happened to bring home the crucial importance of those values in the twenty-first century. The attacks of 11 September had provided a painful reminder of the need to work together to address global challenges, and the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS showed that the world indeed was ready to work together in fighting one of the biggest challenges of this age.

    He said the Nobel Peace Price had offered recognition that to achieve such truly global cooperation in the twenty-first century, the United Nations played an indispensable role, as had been demonstrated by events in East Timor and Sierra Leone, among other things, and by the entry into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

    The presence of Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace here today showed vividly that when it came to working together for a better world, there was no divide between civilizations, the Secretary-General said. It showed that the message they would take back to their various audiences and constituencies was truly universal. That message could be summed up in the Millennium Declaration, agreed on by all the world's countries two years ago as a blueprint for improving people's lives in the twenty-first century. It was up to national leaders to put it in practice, but Governments could not do it alone. They needed to hear the voices of people who insisted that their leaders would translate those pledges into action.

    That was where the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace came in. Referring to the impact Bono had had in arguing the case for debt relief and poverty alleviation in Africa, he said a reporter had told him he was confused about who was the real architect of United States foreign aid policy -- the Irish musician or the Treasury Secretary. The commitment of the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace reflected their true "star quality" -- not the glitter of celebrity on the outside, but the character of the human being inside -- a human being who cared enough to stick with his or her mission. It gave those in difficult situations hope to know that someone cared. "Dear ambassadors, dear messengers, dear friends, please go out and use your talent to help us make the world a better place," he said.

    HARRY BELAFONTE, on behalf of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that it was a privilege for him to add his voice to the many that sought to better humanity. "Perhaps it's not that we're not doing a good enough job, but that we underestimate the evil will of our adversaries". For him, it was a sad commentary that the most powerful nation in the world had yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The job would not end anytime soon, must it must be done with strength and courage.

    PRINCESS BASMA BINT TALAL, of behalf of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that no single platform could take on today's challenges like the United Nations could. One of the most challenging and inspiring aspects of her role as a Goodwill Ambassador was to create a deeper understanding of the linkages which existed between global policies and local realities.

    As an Arab Muslim woman, and in her own country Jordan, she had seen firsthand the positive impact of sustainable human development approaches promoted by UNDP and the dignity and self-reliance which capacity development created for individuals and local communities. The UNIFEM had assisted countless women in the Arab region to become better decision makers and take control over their own lives. In addition, it was UNFPA which had made remarkable progress in affecting the quality of family life in the Arab region. In her desperately troubled region, it was such efforts that created opportunities, choices and hope.

    VIJAY AMRITRAJ, Messenger of Peace, said he had served in that capacity for over a year and a half. As an athlete, he had travelled the world playing a sport that brought him much fortune. However, he did not get to see the world in the way it really was. His first visit as a Messenger of Peace was to the earthquake-ravaged State of Gujarat in India. One of the things that had struck him was how quickly the United Nations agencies could mobilize their forces and work under the most stressful and difficult conditions. Most striking was the look of hope on the faces of the children. His second visit was to war-torn Sri Lanka, where, once again, it was the faces of the children that had struck him. The world was small and the challenges were numerous, but if it could be seen as a match, it was certainly one that could be won.

    DIKEMBE MUTOMBO, on behalf of UNDP, said his experiences as a Goodwill Ambassador had been extremely rewarding. He recalled one memorable experience, which took place at the World Conference on HIV/AIDS in Durban, South Africa. HIV/AIDS was taking a tremendous toll in southern and sub-saharan Africa. On the first day of the conference, an 11-year-old boy named Nkosi gave an inspiring message to the delegates. His voice was small but powerful. He spoke about unconditional love, courage, brotherhood, tolerance and forgiveness. He was the unfortunate victim of the AIDS virus. His community had rejected him but a loving foster family had taken him in. He had fought a long hard battle with AIDS and his short life had made an impact on all who had met him and heard him that day. He was grateful for the opportunity to have met Nkosi and to have heard him speak.

    MARY BANOTTI (Ireland), member of the European Parliament and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said UNFPA was the most reviled organization within the United Nations. Its work was vitally important, but was challenged by a bizarre international coalition lead by the United States. She emphasized that UNFPA did not advocate abortion, but had to deal daily with the dreadful tragedy caused by unsafe abortions throughout the world. The main problem UNFPA had to address was combating the horrendous amount of maternal and infant mortality throughout the world, but unfortunately, the organization had to fight from a political corner.

    She said that she had started a recent visit to Afghanistan with all the usual prejudices, particularly about the burkah, but had found out that underneath those burkahs there was a lot of subversive activity going on. The women were brave, determined to survive and passionate about education. She assured the Secretary-General that in the UNFPA Goodwill Ambassadors, the United Nations had a wonderful group of supporters, which had a vital role to play in the work of the United Nations.

    MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA (Thailand), Senator and Chairman, Population and Community Development Association, and Goodwill Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said it was not easy to be an ambassador for the concerns of HIV/AIDS, as in many parts of the world stigma and denial attached to the illness remained. Sex and drugs were often seen as a taboo, and yet they had to be addressed. As a goodwill ambassador he sometimes felt like a lightning rod for which a condom offered little protection. One of things his organization had done was to establish restaurants that offered good food and a condom after dinner in the hope that customers would come back. Over 50 million people were infected, and many more would be in the future. He called on all Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace to include concerns about HIV/AIDS in their activities.

    TAKEHITO NAKATA (Japan), representing the United Nations Volunteers, said that when his only son was shot at the age of 25 on 8 April 1993 in Cambodia while carrying out his duties as a volunteer for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, he had had to take stock of his own life. His soul-searching on how the tragedy could be turned into something positive had led him to the decision to follow in his son's footsteps. Since he had started to serve as honorary ambassador of the United Nations Volunteers, he had visited volunteers in almost 20 countries and had given more than 2,000 keynote speeches to promote volunteer action. He said Cambodia had not forgotten the supreme sacrifice of the volunteer. A monument had been established at the place of his death. His son had also been awarded the first Dag Hammarskjöld medal.

    ANGELINA JOLIE (United States), actress and Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that despite the fact that she had not learned much in school about what was going on in the world, she had always thought the United Nations was a good institution. When she read in a book about the United Nations that there were more than 20 million refugees and more people displaced, she said she could not believe it. She had called Washington to offer her services. She had gone to Sierra Leone and Pakistan among other countries, and the first trip had completely changed her life. She had become very connected to what was truly important.

    GEORGE MCGOVERN, former Senator and Ambassador of the United States and Goodwill Ambassador for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that almost five years ago he had been asked by President Clinton to be the American Ambassador to the United Nations agencies in Rome that dealt with food and agriculture. While he at first had thought it was a dead end job for former failed presidential candidates, he had soon realized the job had been tailor-made for his interests and passion.

    His passion was that the United Nations, working through the WFP and cooperating non-governmental agencies, would provide a good nutritious lunch every day for every school child in the world. Three hundred million children of primary school age were not being fed during the school day. As a former teacher, he knew it was impossible to educate youngsters under such conditions. He also knew from experience from pilot programmes that as soon as a school lunch programme was started, enrolment went up dramatically, as did academic performance.

    It had also been established that girls staying home would marry at a very early age and have an average of six children, he said. However, girls going to school would marry later and have an average of 2.9 children, cutting in half the average, without abortion or surgical intervention, which should be good news to the present administration in the United States. "If that programme could be carried out for every school child, it will literally transform life on the planet for everybody," he said.

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