On Sunday, February 23, Ambassador Samantha Power gave a speech at the 2014 Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, titled “The War on Truth (and what we must do to win it).” The Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture is sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, Yitzhak Rabin Hillel UCLA, and UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations. The lecture commemorates the work of Daniel Pearl, a journalist whose life was brutally cut short while on his way to an interview in Pakistan twelve years ago, where he was captured and beheaded by Pakistani militants. In the aftermath of his death, Pearl’s parents created the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which works to “promote mutual respect and understanding among diverse cultures through journalism, music, and dialogue.”
In concurrence with the work of Daniel Pearl and the goal of the foundation, Ambassador Power’s speech discussed the importance of journalism and freedom of the press. As quoted in the Huffington Post, Dr. Cindy Fan, the Director of the International Institute at UCLA stated,
“Ambassador Power spoke with passion and commitment about the critical role a free press plays in ensuring that the public is informed and that those in power are held accountable.”
Ambassador Power went on to note that foreign governments in China, Egypt, Syria and Turkey are repressing the rights of journalists and denying freedom of the press, as well as access to information. Turkey specifically, as noted by Ambassador Power, has incarcerated the highest number of journalists in the past year. Furthermore, Ambassador Power spoke to the importance of free press and the protection of journalists, both grassroots and official, in bringing to light injustices within nations across the globe.
But who exactly is Ambassador Samantha Power?
At 43 years old, Samantha Power is an Irish-born American who is currently serving as the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. She received a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
In addition to her position at the UN, Ambassador Power is also a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. She previously worked as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Staff at the White House. Prior to her positions within the US government, Power helped found the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and taught courses on US foreign policy, human rights and UN Reform at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
But even before all of these notable positions, Samantha Power started her career as a journalist. After she graduated from Yale in 1994, she immediately left the US for Yugoslavia, covering the war for the Boston Globe, the Economist, The New Republic, and US News and World Report. It was this experience that led her to become “obsessed” as her friends have stated, with genocide conflicts and the responses to these human rights atrocities by both the US government and the international community.
While she was in law school, Samantha Power began writing her first book, titled “A Problem from Hell” which covers the response of the US government to multiple genocides throughout the last century of American history. After Power’s rise through her work on the Obama campaign and during his administration, her commitment to intervention in genocide conflicts became her claim to fame.
Samantha Power has been criticized in the press for warmongering, claiming that her commitment to intervention and the responsibility to protect ideology in genocide conflicts is just another avenue for the US to tout its military power.
For example, when Samantha Power called for military action in Syria, one critic was quoted by the Telegraph referring to Power as a “war hawk.”
However, Power herself has stated time and time again that her book, “A Problem from Hell” does not prescribe military action as the only solution to genocide. Instead, Power believes it promotes the responsibility of the international community to act to stop genocide when it happens:
“If you think of foreign policy as a toolbox, there are a whole range of options—you can convene allies, impose economic sanctions, expel ambassadors, jam hate radio. There is always something you can do.”
Ambassador Power is also well known for her focus on LGBT and women’s rights, the promotion of religious freedom and protection of religious minorities, human trafficking, and democracy and human rights.
Earlier this year, Power met with two members of the Russian band Pussy Riot, who were jailed for criticizing the Russian President Vladimir Putin. She called the members “brave ‘troublemakers’” in a tweet containing a photo with herself and the two women.
In response to her meeting, Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin frostily replied, “She has not joined the band? I would expect her to invite them to perform at the National Cathedral in Washington. This is my expectation.”
Ambassador Power’s response was nothing less than gold:
While she may be subject to intense criticism, primarily from the media, due to her staunch commitment to intervention in cases of genocide, Samantha Power’s refusal to compromise her values is exactly what makes her one of our generation’s top kick-ass women.
To have a woman as outspoken as Ambassador Power in such a position at the UN and within the US government, to me, feels like we have won the feminist lottery.