PRESS CONFERENCE BY NEW UNITED NATIONS PEACE MESSENGER GEORGE CLOONEY

31 January 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY NEW UNITED NATIONS PEACE MESSENGER GEORGE CLOONEY

31 January 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY new United Nations peace messenger george clooney

Award-winning actor, George Clooney, speaking at a Headquarters press conference today in his new role as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on peacekeeping, said upon his return from Darfur:  “The world is watching, and at this point, we can’t afford to fail.”

Having just returned from Darfur, Mr. Clooney told correspondents about the hope he sensed among the people on the ground:  “They see these bright blue hats and they feel a new energy in the air.  They feel for the first time that this is the moment that the rest of the world, all the nations united, are stepping in to help them.  There is only one chance to get this right.  They believe you when you tell them that hope is coming.  They know that only the United Nations can help on this scale.  They know it, and you know it.”

Mr. Clooney’s briefing followed a ceremony this morning, during which the actor was presented with a United Nations Messenger of Peace certificate and a dove pin.  He had recently accompanied Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support, on a technical assessment mission, visiting the peacekeeping missions in Darfur, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The team had also travelled to India, the third largest troop contributor, with more than 9,300 uniformed personnel serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Introducing Mr. Clooney, Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that, in selecting him as one of his Messengers of Peace, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had recognized Mr. Clooney’s desire to “help focus world attention on the noble aims and objectives enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations”.  The Secretary-General had also said that, over the course of his remarkable artistic career, Mr. Clooney had demonstrated his dedication “to what is best in humankind”.

Also briefing correspondents, Ms. Lute said that the trip had been undertaken to take a look at the challenges of start-up of peacekeeping operations in three distinct areas.  It had provided a view of peacekeeping “not from the bridge, but from the engine room”.  The team had covered 19 locations in 14 days, including “deep-field locations” where the challenges were greatest.  It had held numerous meetings with various players, including Government officials in several countries, as well as staff of the newly-established African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission in Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which is now in its start-up phase.

Mr. Clooney said that the job of a Messenger came with the responsibility to deal with facts -- “not to tell people what they want to hear, but to tell them the truth, unfiltered”.  While each conflict zone had unique difficulties, there was always one unifying thread:  the worst atrocities were saved for the poorest and most vulnerable.

His first piece of business had been to get acquainted with the peacekeepers in action, which meant the front lines of conflict, he said.  The team had arrived in the Congo on the day the peace agreement was signed in Goma, visiting outposts that had been shelled only days before.  The agreement was “very tenuous”, and it was “flawed and messy”, but it also represented hope, tangible progress and a chance for peace.  The determination of United Nations peacekeepers had made that possible.

In Chad, where the peacekeeping role was in its infancy, he noted that the fighting was spilling over from Darfur, making the shared border a dangerous place.  The refugee and internally displaced persons camps were right there, and those were most at risk.  The team had met with President Idriss Deby of Chad, who assured its members that the United Nations and humanitarian workers were not only welcome, but were needed in his country.  That did not mean it would be easy to succeed there; it meant that the host country recognized that the peacekeepers had no agenda, no intention of overtaking the country, only a mandate to provide enough space for talks to begin safely.  Even with the Government’s support, that was a nearly impossible task, but it was the belief of all concerned that dialogue was also the only chance for peace.

Turning to Darfur, he said that the Sudanese Government had hoped to show that it had been unfairly treated by the international community, that the cases of atrocities by the Government were exaggerated.  However, in Darfur, another picture emerged.  “Let us be clear,” he said.  “As we travelled to north, south and west Darfur, El Fashir, Nyala, Zalengi, there was not one man, woman or child in any camp, at any location, that didn’t hold the Government of Sudan or its Janjaweed-supported militia responsible for them being displaced.  Not one.”

The fact was that millions of people were homeless, and not from famine, or disease, or acts of God, but from well-armed militia intent on ridding the land of its people, he said.  Another fact was that the attacks had become increasingly complicated, and a vacuum of justice, civility, local government, land rights and humanity had been created.  As in any apocalypse, the ones left standing had begun to fight for survival.  The rebel groups could, and had, engaged in horrific acts of violence.  There could be no peace until all of those parties sat down at a table and began the long process of talks.  There were too many people who wanted to go back to their homes and not live in misery.

To deploy peacekeepers, resources were needed, as well as the support of the host nation and Member States, he said.  As for the host country, in Darfur, peacekeepers were not an occupying force; they were not there to spread democracy or infringe on religious beliefs.  The Government had accepted resolution 1769 (2007), which meant it could not obstruct the peacekeepers.  “You’ve asked for more humanitarian aid.  Humanitarians cannot work if they are not protected from rebel attacks.  If they are not your rebels, then you should welcome the peacekeepers’ efforts to suppress the violence,” he said.

Calling the resource issue “far less complicated”, he said, however, that most Member States were not fulfilling their duty.  For example, the United States was $1 billion short of its peacekeeping dues.  Resources meant helicopters, trucks, radios -- any number of elements to support those forces.

To Member States, he said:  “All your participation and skill is needed.”  The United Nations had a habit of referring to itself as a collective of individual States, but it was much more than that.  “You are the United Nations -- an entity all to yourselves,” he said.  In a hospital, women who had been raped and set on fire two days earlier, had said to him: “Please send the UN.”  Not the US, or China, or Russia -- just the UN.  “You are their only hope,” he added.

Regarding UNAMID, he noted that some 9,000 peacekeepers were already in place, most of them were formerly the African Union troops, and most of them had been awaiting pay since September.  They were also awaiting 17,000 extra troops, along with equipment.  Some groups were protecting 250 square kilometres of desert with no helicopters and no working radios.

“These are your troops now.  The men and women risking their lives for peace -- your responsibility.  So either give them the basic tools for protecting the population and themselves, or have the decency to just bring them all home.  You can’t do it halfway,” he stressed.

A correspondent commented that it had been the first time he had seen a famous actor give the United Nations a fresh look at how peacekeeping should be run.  “Is this worth more than an Oscar?” he asked.

Mr. Clooney replied that his new Messenger of Peace position involved a lot more responsibility than an acting reward.  In today’s world, people tended “not to get to see enough of what we need to see anymore”.  While unable to craft policy, a celebrity could bring a certain focus to important issues, and he did not take his new job lightly.

Asked if he felt bound by his new position to be more diplomatic and less straightforward, Mr. Clooney replied that, aside from advocacy, diplomacy was needed to work things out.  In some cases, one had to work “with a lot of people that aren’t necessarily the greatest group of people”, and diplomacy could be effective.

To a question about resources, he said that a not-for-profit organization in which he participates, “Not on our Watch”, lobbied everybody from Senators to Member States to provide protection for the people and troops in Darfur.  It was also working to provide helicopters, which were badly needed in Darfur.

Asked to comment on his expectations for the next President of the United States, he said that he hoped the person elected would be “infinitely more inclusive of the United Nations” than the present Administration.

Regarding cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers, he said that the United Nations had been taking a proactive stance on that matter.  Such cases were “a black eye for the UN”, and the Organization was taking them very seriously.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.