From war correspondent in Bosnia, to Pulitzer Prize–winning author on genocide, to national security advisor before the age of 40, to youngest-ever U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power has held fast to what she considers a core American value: the advancement of human rights.
After her appointment by President Obama less than a year ago, Power has had an array of conflicting demands, beginning with Syria’s use of chemical weapons to today’s Russian occupation of Crimea. Before she sits down with Tina Brown at Women in the World on April 5, read the journalist-turned-foreign policy pro’s most revealing statements over the years on the horrors of war and the importance of remembering and protecting human rights at an international level.
“It is a fact that Russian military forces have taken over Ukrainian border posts. It is a fact that Russia has taken over the ferry terminal in Kerch. It is a fact that Russian ships are moving in and around Sevastapol. It is a fact that Russian forces are blocking mobile telephone services in some areas. It is a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea. It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace. It is also a fact that independent journalists continue to report that there is no evidence of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities. Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission. It is a violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine, and a breach of Russia’s Helsinki Commitments and its UN obligations.”
On the U.N.’s response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons:
“What we have learned – what the Syrian people have learned – is that the Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have. Nonetheless, as the Secretary General himself has stressed, chemical weapons must “not become a tool of war or terror in the twenty-first century.” It is in our interest – and the interest of all member states of the U.N. – to respond decisively to this horrific attack.”
On the duty of the U.S. to step in during a humanitarian catastrophe, from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell:
''When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act.”
“We know that the opposite of “war” is not “peace.” The opposite of war is “not war.” And we have to remain alert to the chasm between a mere suspension of hostilities and the creation of lasting reconciliation based on the acceptance of a shared historical narrative. The former is the most urgent and achievable goal when conflicts are raging and lives are being lost, but the latter is necessary if we are to improve the likelihood that fighting does not resume. To move from “not war” to “peace,” communities need to be able to know who did what, how, and why—to move from blaming “Christians” or “Muslims,” “Hutu” or “Tutsi,” “Shia” or “Sunni,” “Dinka” or “Nuer”—communities must begin holding not whole races or religions responsible for their pain, but individuals.
“Given the new rhetoric, the president felt it was very very important to probe and test and to listen and see if there’s anything new substantively being offered here, and I think that’s our posture, skepticism. There is a new diplomatic window but it won’t remain open forever.”
“We have always said that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine; it has been disheartening in the extreme to see Russia carry on as if Ukrainians have no legitimate interests in Crimea, when Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Self-determination is a value that all of us here today hail. We do so while recognizing the critical, foundational importance of national and international law. Coercion cannot be the means by which a self determines. The chaos that would ensue is not a world that any of us can afford; it is a dangerous world. We echo the views expressed by all regions of the world these last weeks calling for a de-escalation of tensions and an electoral process in Ukraine that will allow the people of that country — in all of their diversity — to choose their leaders, freely, fairly, and without coercion.”
“The one thing I think is good in me is that after all these years....I mean, maybe it’s not about good or not good...I’m relieved that after all these years of doing atrocity work I still cry my eyes out every time I read the paper in the morning. It’s surprising, actually.”
"The reason one country voted "no" today, is that the world believes that international borders are more than mere suggestions. The world believes that people within those internationally recognized borders have the right to chart their own future, free from intimidation. And the world believes that the lawless pursuit of one’s ambitions, serves none of us.”
“U.S. foreign policy should inject first-order concern for human rights into every policy decision. American decision-makers must understand how damaging a foreign policy that privileges order and profit over justice really is in the long term. American decision-makers in every branch of government, in every department (the Pentagon frequently undermines State Department stands on human rights), and in every bureau should ask: What are the likely human consequences of this arms deal? Of this aid package? Of this oil contract? Of this Security Council vote? Of this treaty rejection or unsigning? Of this photo op with this abusive foreign leader? Every decision would require a "full cost accounting"-- in which the harm to and welfare of foreign citizens would constitute a key variable in the cost-benefit calculus.”
“We also must acknowledge as well that remembrance is the beginning – not the end – of our responsibility; and while the world has never seen anything as horrific as the Holocaust, the duty we have is an urgent and active one: to confront evil, to defend truth, to unite in the face of threats to human dignity, and to strive to stop any who would abuse their neighbors. Let us go forward, then, to meet that obligation, recognizing our own fate in that of others, and demanding always the very best of ourselves.”