The daughter of Muammar Gaddafi may have seemed an unlikely natural candidate for the role of Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme.
In her youth she was a keen supporter of the IRA, she worked on Saddam Hussein’s trial defence team and has previously spoken up for her father’s regime. But until last week, Aisha Gaddafi was an emissary working to tackle HIV and violence against women in Libya, bearing the Goodwill Ambassador title shared by actors, sports stars and musicians. She was appointed to the role in July 2009 and launched the Libyan “Strategy for the Advancement of Women”. Her appointment was initially for one year, then renewed for a second, according to Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UNDP.
Unlike International Goodwill Ambassadors, who total 190 worldwide and include Angelina Jolie (refugees), Zinédine Zidane (development) and Gisele Bündchen (environment), Ms Gaddafi’s remit extended only to her own country: she was chosen to “advance development goals within the context [of Libya]”. Then, amid the increasingly bloody repression of revolt with reports of thousands of deaths, the UN’s flagship anti-poverty agency announced that “following the recent events” they had terminated their agreement with the 33-year-old lawyer, described in the Arabic press as the “Claudia Schiffer of North Africa”.
They stripped her of the role under Article 30 of the UN Guidelines for the Designation of Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace, which says it is a deal-breaker to “engage in any activity incompatible with his/her status or with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, or if the termination is in the interest of the organisation”. Ghosheh says a letter was sent, informing Ms Gaddafi of the decision. She is not the only Goodwill Ambassador to run into trouble over the honorary, rather than salaried role, “although a symbolic payment of $1 a year or equivalent may be granted”, according to UN guidelines. Expenses may be covered when travelling, but Ambassadors are not given the UN Laissez-Passer, the travel document that can be used like a passport.
In 2006, Egyptian actor Hussein Fahmi, then a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNDP, spoke out against the UN over the failure to protect civilians in Lebanon during the shelling of Qana, saying he no longer wanted to represent an institution that stood by while civilians were being massacred. And while Angelina Jolie retains her title for now, she can’t quite shake off the controversy of her film directorial debut, a love story between a Muslim woman and Serb man, set in Bosnia during the country’s civil war in the early 1990s, filmed last year. Victims of sexual violence during the Balkan conflict criticised her “ignorant” attitude of failing to meet them in Bosnia to discuss their stories and wrote a letter to the UNHCR, saying: “We believe she has no more credibility to remain ambassador.” But for anyone hoping to step into the shoes of any former ambassador, it can be complicated. For a start, you need to be high profile.
Each UN organisation chooses their own ambassadors, but they must be “persons of integrity” who “possess the personality and dignity required for such high-level representative capacity”, according to official guidelines. They are usually offered an initial twoyear term, but this is renewable. Sir Roger Moore (children) has served for two decades, while former pop singer Geri Halliwell (population) has been going strong since 1998. Only heads of UN offices, funds and programmes may designate ambassadors and each UN department, from the cultural, educational and scientific organisation Unesco to the UN Population Fund, is open to have a select few ambassadors representing them.
Some of the most high profile ambassadors work for the sister organisation UNICEF and the Children’s Emergency Fund, which is constantly approached by wannabe ambassadors, meaning it can afford to be “very selective”. In the United Kingdom, national Goodwill Ambassadors include Duncan Bannatyne, Robbie Williams and Claudia Schiffer, and the organisation stresses the importance of them being “well-respected by their peers and by a wider audience”. “We appoint Ambassadors after a twoto- three year period of activities with UNICEF, which establishes their commitment and value,” a spokeswoman says. “Ambassadors play a key role in the charity’s advocacy, media and fundraising work. We usually ask them to fulfil four to five requests per year, but many deliver over and above.”
Vittorio Cammarota, external relations officer at the World Health Organisation, in charge of Goodwill Ambassadors campaigning against tuberculosis – including singer Craig David – says: “We approach people whose faces are known because messages carried by them reside in people, and have more impact. “We’ll work on a two-year programme, sharing ideas for collaboration and agreeing on a work plan.” He says in the case of David, he happened to be talking to him at a gala dinner and found the singer was, “very moved by the cause and decided to help us”.
Cammarota says they “always do a background check” on any potential ambassador: “We’re part of the UN family, so we make sure they’re not in the press for alcohol, drugs or smoking. David has a wonderful reputation.” While it is doubtless sensitive for the UN to have to strip an Ambassador of their role, the vast majority of high-profile emissaries work generously to ensure public awareness of the work done by UN organisations.
Perhaps none more so than actor, singer and comedian Danny Kaye, who became UNICEF’s first-ever ambassador – and the first celebrity ambassador for a charity globally – in 1954, after chatting with Maurice Pate, then UNICEF Executive Director, on a plane. Pate explained the organisation faced problems with recognition, so Kaye created the documentary Assignment: Children, touring projects across Asia.
It was seen by more than 100 million people and Kaye continued to work for the organisation for the next 33 years, until his death in 1987, saying: “The most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life is to be associated with UNICEF.” And for poise, elegance and neutrality, there is no better example than Audrey Hepburn’s tireless work from 1989 until herdeath in 1993 to publicise the plight of children from Ethiopia to Ecuador and El Salvador. Perhaps it might have been a good idea for Aisha Gaddafi to have considered her as a role model.