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UN salutes ‘inspiring’ life of civil rights champion Harry Belafonte

“At this moment of sorrow, let us be inspired by his example and strive to defend the dignity and rights of every human being, everywhere,” said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, in a statement.

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Human rights hero

“Beyond touching millions with his inimitable charm and charisma in music, film, and theatre, Mr. Belafonte devoted his life fighting for human rights and against injustice in all its forms,” he said.

“He was a fearless campaigner for civil rights and a powerful voice in the struggle against apartheid, the fight against AIDS, and the quest to eradicate poverty.”

Born in 1927 in Harlem, New York, Mr. Belafonte was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1987. Over the decades, he set new standards for public advocacy on behalf of the world’s children, Mr. Dujarric added.

With unrelenting dedication and boundless generosity, he engaged presidents, parliamentarians, and civil society to advocate for children.

Champion for children

UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, said that during Mr. Belafonte’s 36 years as Goodwill Ambassador, his dedication and generosity of spirit helped set a high standard for the role – meeting with world leaders to rally support for the agency and the issues that impact children’s lives.

“We mourn the loss of Harry Belafonte, one of the world’s greatest actors, singers, producers, and champions of human rights – especially children,” she said. “His legacy includes advocating for primary healthcare, treatment for HIV/AIDS, and free access to education for all.”

An eloquent campaigner for the world’s children, he understood the power of focusing the world’s attention on its most needy, including, among other things, giving the iconic UNICEF School-in-a-Box its name, and organizing the Grammy winning and quadruple platinum single, We are the World, to raise money for African famine relief, Ms. Russell said.

Harry Belafonte addresses the audience gathered for the UN Day Concert 2009 in the General Assembly.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Harry Belafonte addresses the audience gathered for the UN Day Concert 2009 in the General Assembly.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the Belafonte family, and join his many fans, friends and admirers from across the globe in celebrating his life, his work, and his steadfast commitment to children,” she added.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte holds a toddler, standing with other children in the Makina section of the Kibera shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya.
© UNICEF/Mariella Furrer

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte holds a toddler, standing with other children in the Makina section of the Kibera shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya.

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