Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to opening of "Welcome to Gulu" exhibition

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 12 May 2009



Thank you very much, Mr. Cage, for that introduction. I am glad you are here today – and not only because my daughter will want your autograph!

I am glad you are here because it means you are continuing your efforts to raise awareness about global challenges.

Mixed in with all the action and special effects in your movies are some important messages.

“The Rock” focused on the threat of chemical weapons.

“The Lord of War” showed us the dangers of the illegal arms trade.

I hope more such movies are in your future. The United Nations depends on people throughout the world to use their influence and, yes, their stardom, to advance global causes.

In that same spirit, I also welcome all the other bright lights who join us from the arts and entertainment industry. It is not often that the United Nations has so many boldface names in one room, although some of you have been supporting us for years. I appreciate your advocacy.

I imagine many of you are invited to more fabulous parties in more glamorous locations. But you are here this evening because you care about the issue of human trafficking. And you understand the profound contribution that Ross Bleckner is making through his work.

Today Ross Bleckner will make history by becoming the first fine artist to be named as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. I welcome him to our family and I hope many others follow.

His tremendously powerful exhibition, “Welcome to Gulu”, proves that art has a unique and important mission in advancing peace and human rights. With his eye, Mr. Bleckner has been able to show the world a side of human trafficking that a diplomat never could. I have my role to play in fighting the horrendous abuse of children we see in northern Uganda and elsewhere. But only an artist as visionary and compassionate as Mr. Bleckner could allow the victims to express themselves so eloquently.

Their paintings show that although they have endured terrible forms of abuse, these children retain a purity and love of life that are the birthright of all youth. Only art – the kind of empowering art that Mr. Bleckner has facilitated through this life-changing project – can offer such a profound perspective.

It is vital that we shine a harsh light on the terrible trade in humans. I recently reported to the Security Council on the extent of this problem. I listed parties that are recruiting children to fight in conflicts, and abusing girls as sexual slaves. We call this “name and shame.” I urged the Security Council to take action against those guilty of these atrocities.

At the same time, I am all-too-aware of the limits of my office. Naming and shaming are critical to confronting perpetrators. Punishing them is essential to fighting the culture of impunity. But none of that will truly heal the boy who has been forced not only to witness killings but to commit them, or the girl who has suffered multiple rapes.

That is why I so deeply appreciate Mr. Bleckner’s contributions. He has done more than just expose a problem – he has taken steps toward solving it. For him, the victims are not just poster-children trotted out to show the devastation caused by human trafficking. They are people with full rights, talents and aspirations. They are speaking in their own voices, painting their own images and healing in the process.

I was delighted to learn that proceeds from the sale of these powerful paintings, and from Mr. Bleckner’s compelling portraits, will benefit former child soldiers and abducted girls.


Two years ago, my wife opened another exhibition sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here at UN Headquarters called “Human Trafficking: Images of Vulnerability.” She decried the trade in people, and she said, “Thanks to this exhibit, it is staring us in the face.”

Then she called for action. “Let us not just look at these pictures and walk away,” she said. “Let us be moved to act.”

There was an artist in the audience that day who took those words to heart. His name is Ross Bleckner, and we see today the results of his passionate activism.

So I repeat the words my wife spoke then: Let us be moved to act. You may not have the same painting skills as Mr. Bleckner, but each and every single one of you can make a difference in your own sphere of influence.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is showing the way through its invaluable activities. By supporting UNODC, we can stop human trafficking so that the people who are today in shackles can tomorrow be free to contribute to a better world for all.

Thank you.