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Goodwill Ambassadors end two days of meetings at U.N.

News Stories, 20 June 2002

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 (UNHCR) An unprecedented meeting of more than 40 internationally recognized writers, actors, athletes, and artists ended Wednesday with a renewed commitment to bring the message of the United Nations to a wider audience.

"It was a time for us to really sit down and hear each other," UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie told a news conference at the end of the two-day session.

In addition to Jolie, UNHCR was represented by the well-known Egyptian actor Adel Imam and the Finnish-Norwegian singer Arja Saijonmaa.

Jolie appeared before the U.N. correspondents together with actors Roger Moore and Dany Glover, Belgian television personality Goedele Liekens, and Thai Senator Mechai Viravaidya.

Although U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace gathered in New York in 2000, this was the first substantive meeting, called by Secretary General Kofi Annan to better acquaint the famous people who travel and speak on behalf of the U.N. and its specialized agencies with the intricacies of the world organization.

"I think I must be in the wrong place," Annan told the opening session Tuesday, "I think I must have wandered into a combination of the Oscars, the Olympics, the Grammies and the Pulitzers."

Annan said he did not think the United Nations was doing a good enough job of making message of peace well-known, and he called on those present to use their fame and ability to mobilize the media to promote the world body's emergency relief and development projects.

Others present for a variety of U.N. agencies included singer Harry Belafonte, Princess Basma Bint Talal of Jordan, NBA basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, and Sir Peter Ustinov.

For two days they participated in seminars on humanitarian emergencies, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, poverty eradication and environmental and sustainable development issues.

Speaking at the humanitarian emergency workshop on Tuesday, Jolie said a refugee emergency "can be one million people fleeing home over a period of 24 hours or it could be having to cut food rations in a camp."

"It is at the end of an emergency situation that victims are left depending on the U.N. for survival, but that is when the funding dries out," she continued. "These are the crucial times when the Goodwill Ambassador can act and bring happy endings to refugees who still need help with rebuilding their life."

The Goodwill Ambassadors also heard how the Security Council and other political branches of the world body operate from Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast and Jean-Marie Guehenno, the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations.

In numerous interviews and during the working sessions Jolie told how working for UNHCR and visiting refugee camps had changed her life, adding that she was shocked when she first learned that there were more than 20 million refugees around the world. "I don't really know the difference I've made," she said.

But the American actress, who just completed a trip to Ecuador to visit Colombian refugees, said she was planning many more visits, including trips to Afghanistan and the Balkans.

By Eduardo Cue
UNHCR New York

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