A week ago, UNHCR’s Special Envoy, as well as activist, feminist, and academic, Angelina Jolie, delivered an inspiring speech at the Sergio Vieira de Mello Annual Lecture.
Sergio was a former UNHCR staff member and UN diplomat killed in a terror attack, along with 21 other men and women, most of them UN employees, at the UN office in Baghdad in 2003.
Her speech came at a time when xenophobia, homophobia and racism are grave problems for the international community; while at the same time nationalism and populism are on the increase. In her speech, Angelina Jolie was in defence of internationalism in the world.
About a thousand people quickly filled up the UN Assembly Hall on March 15, including, students, journalists, UN staff members, diplomats, and the press. I was proud to be in the audience, although a little intimidated by all the high level personalities surrounding me. My first reaction when I saw Angelina Jolie walk in, and head towards the podium was: “Wow, she’s even more beautiful in real life than on screen”. As soon as she stepped into the room, half the audience were already standing up with their phones out to film, snapchat, Instagram her entrance live. I thought: “What an incredible woman she is”!
But I was even more inspired by her speech and the relevant topics she brought up. One part of her speech focussed on remembering Sergio and his commitment to protecting refugees, as she pointed out: “Sergio was a man who never turned down an assignment, no matter how difficult and dangerous – or as others have put it, he was “handed one impossible task after another”. She then went on to highlight the rise in the number of conflicts, and insecurity across the world, as well as the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons while there are no solutions in sight. Political corruption, the rise in nationalism, the fear of terrorism, the use of chemical weapons and crimes against humanity that are being ignored: “Many of these things are not new – but taken together – and in the absence of strong international leadership, they are deeply worrying”.
My favourite part of her speech however was when she highlighted the vast differences in wealth and inequality in the world, “I am a proud American and I am an internationalist. I believe anyone committed to human rights is an internationalist. It means seeing the world with a sense of fairness and humility, and recognizing our own humanity in the struggles of others”.
I really encourage everyone to view or read her speech – to learn more about what is at stake in the world today, how the UN system operates and reflect what can be done by us as individuals.
“Because a world in which we turn our back on our global responsibilities will be a world that produces greater insecurity, violence and danger for us and for our children”.
Here is a link to read the full text of the speech: