On Friday April 24, 2015 – UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt appeared in front of the UN Security Council in New York to raise awareness on the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.
These remarks were provided by UNHCR
United Nations Security Council (7433rd Meeting), Open Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria, Remarks by Angelina Jolie Pitt, UNHCR Special Envoy for Refugee Issues. New York, 24 April 2015. Remarks at the UN Security Council.
Mr President, Foreign Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: it is an honor to brief the Council.
I thank His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Jordan, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and my colleagues from OCHA, and the World Food Programme.
Since the Syria conflict began in 2011, I have made eleven visits to Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Malta.
I wish that some of the Syrians I have met could be here today.
I think of the mother I met recently in a camp in Iraq. She could tell you what it is like to try to live after your young daughter was ripped from your family by armed men, and taken as a sex slave.
I think of Hala, one of six orphaned children living in a tent in Lebanon. She could tell you what it is like to share the responsibility for feeding your family at the age of 11, because your mother died in an air strike and your father is missing.
I think of Dr Ayman, a Doctor from Aleppo, who watched his wife and three year-old daughter drown in the Mediterranean when a smugglers’ boat collapsed packed with hundreds of people. He could tell you what it is like to try to keep your loved ones safe in a warzone, only to lose them in a desperate bid for safety after all other options have failed.
Any one of the Syrians I have met would speak more eloquently about the conflict than I ever could.
Nearly four million Syrian refugees are victims of a conflict they have no part in.
Yet they are stigmatized, unwanted, and regarded as a burden.
So I am here for them, because this is their United Nations.
Here, all countries and all people are equal – from the smallest and most broken member states to the free and powerful.
The purpose of the UN is to prevent and end conflict:
To bring countries together, to find diplomatic solutions and to save lives.
We are failing to do this in Syria.
Responsibility for the conflict lies with the warring parties inside Syria.
But the crisis is made worse by division and indecision within the international community – preventing the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibilities.
In 2011, the Syrian refugees I met were full of hope. They said “please, tell people what is happening to us”, trusting that the truth alone would guarantee international action.
When I returned, hope was turning into anger: the anger of the man who held his baby up to me, asking “is this a terrorist? Is my son a terrorist?”
On my last visit in February, anger had subsided into resignation, misery and the bitter question “why are we, the Syrian people, not worth saving?”
To be a Syrian caught up in this conflict is to be cut off from every law and principle designed to protect innocent life:
International humanitarian law prohibits torture, starvation, the targeting of schools and hospitals – but these crimes are happening every day in Syria.
The Security Council has powers to address these threats to international peace and security – but those powers lie unused.
The UN has adopted the Responsibility to Protect concept, saying that when a State cannot protect its people the international community will not stand by – but we are standing by, in Syria.
The problem is not lack of information – we know in excruciating detail what is happening in Yarmouk, in Aleppo and in Homs.
The problem is lack of political will.
We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent.
And I say this as someone who is proud to have been part of the UN system for 13 years.
I don’t think enough people realize just how many people are fed, sheltered, protected and educated by the United Nations every day of the year.
But all of this good is undermined by the message being sent in Syria: that laws can be flouted – chemical weapons can be used, hospitals can be bombed, aid can be withheld and civilians starved – with impunity.
So on behalf of Syrian refugees, I make three pleas to the international community:
The first is an appeal for unity.
It is time for the Security Council to work as one to end the conflict, and reach a settlement that also brings justice and accountability for the Syrian people.
It is very encouraging to see ministerial representation from Jordan, Spain and Malaysia here today.
But I think we would all like to see the Foreign Ministers of all the Security Council Members here, working on a political solution for Syria as a matter of urgency.
In the last few months we have seen intensive diplomacy at work elsewhere in the region: so now let us see what is possible for the people of Syria.
And while these debates are important, I also urge the Security Council to visit Syrian refugees, to see first hand their suffering and the impact it is having on the region. Those refugees cannot come to this Council, so please, will you go to them.
Second, I echo what has been said about supporting Syria’s neighbors, who are making an extraordinary contribution.
It is sickening to see thousands of refugees drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent. No one risks the lives of their children in this way except out of utter desperation.
If we cannot end the conflict, we have an inescapable moral duty to help refugees and provide legal avenues to safety.
And third, the barbarism of those inflicting systematic sexual violence demands a much greater response from the international community.
We need to send a signal that we are serious about accountability for these crimes, for that is the only hope of establishing any deterrence.
And I call on Member States to begin preparations now so that Syrian women are fully represented in future peace negotiations, in accordance with multiple resolutions of the Security Council.
And if I may make a wider, final point to conclude my remarks.
The crisis in Syria illustrates that our inability to find diplomatic solutions causes mass displacement, and traps millions of people in exile, statelessness, and displacement.
52 million people are forcibly displaced today – a sea of excluded humanity.
And while our priority must be ending the Syrian conflict, we must also broaden out the discussion to this much wider problem.
Our times will be defined not by the crises themselves, but by the way we pull together as an international community to address them.