John Spellman / Retna Ltd. 1 / 4
John Spellman / Retna Ltd. 1 / 4

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Actors Nicolas Cage, Alec Baldwin and a host of celebrities joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to pay tribute to New York artist Ross Bleckner, appointed a U.N. goodwill ambassador in the campaign against human trafficking.

Cage told several hundred people at a U.N. reception Tuesday night he didn't come as an actor but "as someone who cares about children ... who have the right to be free, the right not to be tortured, to be abducted."

Some 200 paintings created by child victims of human trafficking in Uganda decorated the walls of the room where the reception was held.

Bleckner, who used art therapy to work with the former child soldiers and abducted girls in Uganda, curated the exhibition.

"It is vital that we shine a harsh light on the terrible trade in humans," the secretary-general said, adding that Bleckner was the first fine artist to be a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

"Only an artist as visionary and compassionate as Mr. Bleckner could allows the victims to express themselves so eloquently," he said.

Bleckner called for greater participation to fight the scourge.

"It is within everybody's power to reach out, with whatever they can offer, no matter how small or large, whether it be intellectual, financial or creative," he said.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, officially appointed Bleckner as a goodwill ambassador for the Vienna-based agency which is in charge of combatting human trafficking. He said Bleckner was not only a painter whose work has been exhibited in museums around the world but "a humanitarian activist and fighter against AIDS."

Egyptian businessman Shafik Gabr, who underwrote the evening, said human trafficking is "now the second-largest illicit business in the world after drugs" worth over $30 billion.

"I'm a huge fan of Bleckner a boundless fan of Bleckner," Baldwin told AP. "I'm very touched by the work that he's doing and I came ... to learn even more."