Angelina Jolie says respect for human rights key to Syria peace

On visit to Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp, UNHCR Special Envoy urges international community to find "principled end to this senseless war."

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie talks to Syrian children at Za'atari camp in Jordan.  © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

ZA’ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan – UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said on Sunday that any negotiated solution to Syria’s long-running conflict must respect the human rights and dignity of all Syrians, including millions of refugees living in neighbouring countries.

Almost seven years since the start of the conflict, more than 6 million people remain displaced inside Syria and a further 5.48 million have fled to other countries in the region, creating the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war.

On her fifth visit to Jordan since the beginning of the crisis, Ms. Jolie visited refugee families living in Za’atari camp, the largest refugee settlement in the Middle East and home to more than 80,000 Syrians.

“We should never forget that the war began with demands by Syrians for greater human rights,” she told a news conference at the camp. “Peace in their country has to be built on that.”

“It cannot be built on impunity for the targeting of civilians by all sides of the conflict, the bombing of schools and hospitals, barrel bombs, torture, chemical weapons and rape used as a weapon of war,” she added.

"Please provide the leadership and strength needed to negotiate a principled end to this senseless war."

“So that is my message to the international community today: yes, of course, please do more to help meet the needs of desperate Syrian families and the countries hosting them. But above all please provide the leadership and strength needed to negotiate a principled end to this senseless war – without sacrificing the dignity and human rights of Syrian families. That is non-negotiable.”

Earlier, the Special Envoy met father-of-six Abu Suhaib, 40, who fled to Jordan from southern Syria’s Dara’a province in 2013. He told her the bloodshed and chaos back home had left him feeling helpless in exile, and said all he wanted was for his family to live in peace.

"All I want is to live with them somewhere they can study, become engineers or doctors, and serve the country that takes them with all honour and loyalty," he said. "From everything we see, it's difficult to hope that Syria will go back to the way it was before."

Accompanying the Special Envoy were two of her daughters – Zahara, 13, and Shiloh, 11 – who met a group of young Syrian girls at a UNHCR-funded community centre in the camp. The girls are all members of an after-school learning initiative, and they described education as their greatest source of hope for the future.

“My daughters Zahara and Shiloh asked to come with me today,” Ms. Jolie said. “They’ve spent time today speaking and playing with children their own age who have been forced from their homes, whose family members have been killed or have disappeared, and who are struggling with trauma and illness, but who at the end of the day are just children, with the same hopes and rights as children in any other nation.”

“UNHCR does not have the funds to provide in full even the most basic necessities for survival for many families."

After almost seven years of war, most Syrian refugees have exhausted any savings they had, with the majority now living below the poverty line and surviving on less than US$3 per day.

This has resulted in increasing hardship for refugees, the Special Envoy said, leaving many families without sufficient food, increasing numbers of young girls vulnerable to early marriage, and many Syrians facing yet another winter without proper shelter.

“UNHCR does not have the funds to provide in full even the most basic necessities for survival for many families,” Ms. Jolie said. “Last year, the UNHCR response for the Syria crisis was only 50 per cent funded. So far this year, it is only 7 per cent funded.”

“Really, there is nothing more devastating for UNHCR staff than not to be able to give people the help and support they need and deserve.”