Celebrities can do more to help UN spotlight world crises, says actor George Clooney

George Clooney

14 September 2006 – Celebrities can play a bigger role in working with the United Nations to call attention to the world's overlooked or under-reported crises, but they must be well informed if they are to have a positive impact, the actor and director George Clooney said today.

In an interview with the UN News Service after his joint briefing with Nobel Laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Elie Wiesel to the Security Council in New York about the dire situation faced by the people of Darfur, Sudan, he said celebrities can help ensure crises stay under the media spotlight.

In the case of Darfur, Mr. Clooney said the immediate goal is to try to bring action before the end of the month, when African Union (AU) soldiers are slated to leave the region, which may spark an exodus of humanitarian workers. Some 3 million people in Darfur depend on aid for food, shelter and health care.

“Our job wasn't to try and convince anybody in that room. Our job was to try and make sure cameras got there. Because once you shine a light on people, they tend to have to honour their commitments,” he said, citing last month's Security Council resolution 1706, when members voted to deploy more than 17,000 UN peacekeepers.

The resolution “invites the consent” of the Sudanese Government to the deployment, but Khartoum has stated repeatedly that it is opposed to any UN blue helmets taking over from the AU.

Mr. Clooney said the challenge now for him, Professor Wiesel and others was to try to keep Darfur in the public eye up until the AU departure deadline at the end of the month.

“I really think that our job is to try and empower and buoy up the UN, because without them I don't know what we can do? Things come and go very quickly [in the spotlight]. Like the Darfur rally in May or in April, and everyone goes, 'Well, we fixed it,' and then they go away.”

Mr. Clooney said that while there has been a long history of celebrities and public figures working to spotlight important public problems, it is vital they know the topic they are speaking about if they are to resist the attacks of potential critics.

“If you're a celebrity and you're going to do it, you better be really well informed on the subject matter, because otherwise I think you do damage to it,” he said, before giving an example.

“People like to come in and say, 'OK, tell me about Minni Minawi [a Darfur rebel leader].' If you don't know that sort of thing, then they basically marginalize you? So your job is to be really well informed, so that when somebody tries to put that, you're able to respond to everything along the way.”

Mr. Clooney – who visited Darfur earlier this year – stressed it helps to be “finding and picking your spots and not trying to tell everybody what to think; just trying to spotlight.”

He said he was optimistic about the willingness of people, whether well known or not, to support good causes.

“I think people, when they have a minute, are actually really good about helping out. I really do think that. And celebrities have the access, so they should do something whenever they can.”

Across the UN system there are currently about 80 Goodwill Ambassadors and nine Messengers of Peace. Since the early 1950s the world body has enlisted prominent figures from the spheres of art, music, film, literature and sport to highlight key issues and draw attention to its activities.

During the interview, Mr. Clooney also praised the efforts of humanitarian workers from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist the people in Darfur, where fighting between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups has displaced nearly 2 million people since 2003 and led to scores of thousands of civilian deaths.

“It's shocking how brave these people are,” he said, noting the conditions he witnessed in many of the camps for Darfur's internally displaced persons (IDPs) where the aid workers operate.

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