Bye bye United Nations: A Jolly Good Move!

Angelina Jolie and Antonio Guterres
Angelina Jolie and Antonio Guterres. Photo: United Nations Photo/Flickr

American award-winning actress, film director, producer, and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie, has decided to quit her role as a Special Envoy to the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, citing a desire to “work differently”. 

Ms. Jolie has worked with the UNHCR since 2001, and has been a Special Envoy for the organisation since 2012. Her role involved building awareness and support for refugees and highlighting the need for urgent action to be taken in order to tackle issues relating to the serious events that force people to flee their homes, such as conflict and climate change.

In a joint statement with the UNHCR issued on 16 December 2022, Ms. Jolie said:

“I will continue to do everything in my power in the years to come to support refugees and other displaced people. After 20 years working within the UN system I feel it is time for me to work differently, engaging directly with refugees and local organisations, and supporting their advocacy for solutions”.

Ms. Jolie’s frustration at the pathetic international response to these issues has been brewing for a while now. Speaking on the occasion of World Refugee Day on 20 June 2021, she lambasted the institutions in no uncertain terms:

“We have to wake up to the track we are on globally, with so many conflicts raging and the very real possibility that climate change will force tens if not hundreds of millions of people to have to leave their homes in the future, with no possibility of return.”

“It is erratic, it is unequal, it is built on inherited privilege, it is subject to the whim of political leaders, and it is geared towards the interests of powerful countries, including my own, at the expense of others.”

It is not that we are at a breaking point – this is broken. The way we as an international community try to address conflict and insecurity is broken.

Angelina Jolie

Clearly, the situation has deteriorated even further since then owing to an intensification of climate disasters and the war on Ukraine, with its rippling effects around the world. 

A “broken” system, however, will only make matters worse; while the UN’s hands are tied by the powerful States that pull many of its strings. Of course, by working on her own initiative, Ms. Jolie will only be able to skim the surface of the challenges we face, but her bold move will certainly help in highlighting the need for better international institutions.

Meanwhile, Ms. Jolie’s decision was backed by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who thanked her in the same joint statement mentioned above, adding:

“After a long and successful time with UNHCR, I appreciate her desire to shift her engagement and support her decision. I know the refugee cause will remain close to her heart, and I am certain she will bring the same passion and attention to a wider humanitarian portfolio. I look forward to our continued friendship.” 

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