Celebrated artist to be named UN Goodwill Ambassador for human trafficking

Credit: IOM 2007

12 May 2009 – The United Nations anti-crime arm will today name acclaimed American painter Ross Bleckner as Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking at the opening of an art exhibition displaying paintings by former child soldiers and abducted girls from Uganda.

Mr. Bleckner, the first artist to be honoured as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, has been appointed to spearhead the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “Blue Heart” campaign against human trafficking.

Launched in March, the initiative aims to raise awareness about the millions of victims and rally support to combat this modern form of slavery.

The star-studded induction ceremony will take place tonight at UN Headquarters in New York at the opening of the “Welcome to Gulu” exhibition, which Mr. Bleckner curated on behalf of UNODC and the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims.

Proceeds raised from the sale of the some 200 paintings, as well as some of Mr. Bleckner’s own portraits, will benefit children from Gulu in northern Uganda who created the works.

In recent years, Gulu and other areas of northern Uganda, have been plagued by rebel groups snatching, recruiting and conscripting thousands of children, forcing the boys to be killers and girls to be sex slaves.

In January, Mr. Bleckner joined UNODC and the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims on an official mission to Gulu, assisting in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers and abducted girls through art therapy.

“Art is one of the most powerful advocacy tools to raise awareness and move people to take action,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. “A painting says a thousand words.”

Mr. Costa noted that appointing Mr. Bleckner as UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, as well as opening the exhibition at the UN, “provides a unique opportunity to implore others to join us in our fight against conscription of children, and other forms of human trafficking and modern day slavery.”

The head of UNODC stressed that Mr. Bleckner’s “extraordinary commitment to the plight of trafficking victims will move people to take action against modern day slavery.”

Among the hosts joining Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening will be Academy Award-winning actors Mira Sorvino, who is also a UNODC Goodwill Ambassador combating human trafficking, Rachel Weisz and Nicolas Cage.

Other celebrities in attendance will be actors Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergman and Ashley Judd; designers Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Rachel Roy; artists Jeff Koons, Chuck Close and Brice Marsden; as well as Russell Simmons, Darren Aronofsky, Terry George, Karenna Gore Schiff, Cynthia McFadden and Deborah Roberts.


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