Angelina Jolie rips world powers on Syria’s refugee crisis
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Angelina Jolie rips world powers on Syria’s refugee crisis

Actress slams UN for inaction over conflict that has killed 220,000; Syrian delegate’s response: ‘She’s beautiful’

UN Special Envoy for Refugees and actress Angelina Jolie, right, and then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, left, brief the UN Security Council on Syria's refugee crisis, Friday, April 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
UN Special Envoy for Refugees and actress Angelina Jolie, right, and then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, left, brief the UN Security Council on Syria's refugee crisis, Friday, April 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Actress Angelina Jolie pleaded with world powers Friday to help the millions of Syrian refugees, sharply criticizing the UN Security Council for being paralyzed by its division over Syria’s four-year conflict.

Jolie briefed the council as special envoy for the UN on refugee issues. Syria’s ambassador said simply of her presence, “She’s beautiful.”

Jolie spoke as the council prepared to hear the details of a new plan for peace talks set to begin early next month in Geneva, with Syria ally Iran among those invited.

Nearly 4 million Syrians have fled the conflict into neighboring countries, which warn they are dangerously overstretched. Some 220,000 people are said to have died in the four-year civil war.

“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,” Jolie said.

Jolie, who said she has made 11 visits to Syrian refugees in the region since the crisis began in 2011, called strongly for the political will to act. She said the council’s powers lie unused because its members cannot agree on how to address the conflict.

Russia, a top Syria ally and backed by China, has vetoed multiple council resolutions on Syria, including an effort last year to refer the situation there to the International Criminal Court.

Jolie said she would like to see the foreign minister of each of the 15 council members come to the table to negotiate a political solution.

She also urged council members to visit Syrian refugees and see the crisis for themselves.

In addition, Jolie spoke briefly about the rising migrant crisis on the Mediterranean, where more than 1,300 migrants fleeing Syria and other places have drowned at sea over the past three weeks.

“It is sickening to see thousands of refugees drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent,” she said. “No one risks the lives of their children in this way except out of utter desperation.”

The council was hearing a full day of briefings on Syria, including one behind closed doors by the UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

A spokesman for de Mistura said Iran is among the parties invited to attend the new series of peace talks that will start in early May in Geneva. Iran has not responded, Michael Contet said in an email.

The talks are structured as separate meetings with each party, an effort to avoid the tensions that have hurt previous negotiations. Syria’s moderate opposition is expected to attend.

The UN’s outgoing and outspoken humanitarian coordinator, Valerie Amos, challenged the divided council to mandate a fact-finding mission into the roughly 440,000 Syrians who are besieged in Syria and risk death by starvation, dehydration and the lack of medical care.

“The government, armed and terrorist groups continue to kill, maim, rape, torture and take Syria to new lows that seemed unimaginable a few years ago,” she said. “People have become numb to figures that should, every day, shock our collective conscience.”

The council should mandate the negotiation of humanitarian pauses to allow the delivery of aid, Amos said, and it should enforce an arms embargo and sanctions for the “shocking lack of respect for the most basic rules of international humanitarian law,” including intentional blockage of aid.

US Ambassador Samantha Power told the council that existing resolutions on the crisis “are currently being ridiculed by the Syrian regime.”

The council adopted a presidential statement expressing alarm and calling Syria’s refugee crisis “the largest humanitarian emergency crisis in the world today.”

The UN refugee chief, Antonio Guterres, told the council that 14 million people are now displaced in the “interlinked crises” in Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State group seized territory in the past year.

He called for “massively increased support” for Syria’s neighbors under the flood of refugees, pointing out that as Lebanon and Jordan are considered middle-income countries, the World Bank can’t give them grants for efforts to deal with the “severe demographic shock they have endured.”

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