Even after Samantha Power ’92 surveyed the small audience gathered for her Davenport Master’s Tea on Friday, she was willing to give no-shows the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ll just assume that outside of this room, whatever they’re doing, everyone’s really interested in human rights,” she said jokingly.
Power, who founded the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, serves as the center’s executive director and recently authored the book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Her talk centered on U.S. responses — or the lack thereof — to foreign genocide in the last few decades.
“No American leaders have ever made toppling genocide a priority. No sitting president has ever used ‘the g-word’. Fighting genocide is perceived as an inconvenience for America, but if a [U.S] president prioritized it, then it would become convenient,” she said.
Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld praised Power’s “laser-like focus,” and New Haven resident Josh Safran said her career was a good example of how much one can accomplish within just a few years of leaving Yale.
After graudating from Yale, she started working for Morton Abramowitz, a former ambassador and the founder of the International Crisis Group, who was assigned to be her mentor in the Carnegie Program for International Peace.
Power said Abramowitz was not used to the idea of a young female intern, adding that their relationship stagnated until Power discovered a passion Abramowitz was willing to share with her — his opposition to the ethnic cleansing campaigns perpetrated by the Serbs in Bosnia.
“He couldn’t believe that Europe was letting innocent people die. He became liberated and unmuzzled when talking about it,” Power said.
Power soon decided to go to Bosnia herself as a “stringer” — an unofficial reporter who is loosely affiliated with a few publications and is paid on a per-article basis.
“There was no one over there [in the early 1990s]. Bosnia had simply never had a place in the American psyche,” she said.
But some had heard about the violence. Power told how her mother nearly got into an automobile accident after hearing her daughter, who was supposed to be with Abramowitz in the United States, deliver a report from Sarajevo on National Public Radio.
Power recalled a moment of intense personal anguish when she heard another American reporter in Bosina remark that once a certain Muslim area of refuge fell, his paper would have a “hot story.”
Disenchanted, Power left journalism to attend Harvard Law School, beginning her studies during the week in which NATO strikes against Serbs quickly ended the war. She said she was disappointed that NATO intervention had come so late.
Power said that early preventive action is a better way to fight genocide than “StairMaster-and-crossaint” imprisonments of former political leaders.
When one student asked her to reflect on the forms U.S. intervention into international crisis zones should take, her answer suggested a host of situation-specific options.
“High level denunciation from diplomats is a form of intervention; technological aggression, like jamming hate radio [where names and addresses of human targets are broadcast] in Rwanda, would be a form of intervention. It’s shocking how little the U.S. has done.”