- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Viewpoint: Samantha Power

Spring 2014

Samantha Power is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. Prior to being named UN ambassador, Power served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Staff at the White House. Before joining the government, Ambassador Power was the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. She came to the Kennedy School via the Belfer Center, where, in 1998, she was hired as project director for the Center’s then-new Human Rights Initiative. That initiative morphed into the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, where she was the founding executive director.

We are pleased to highlight Samantha Power’s views on some critical issues she confronts as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.



and Citizen Involvement


November 6, 2013

“As a teenager, my idea of human rights was breaking curfew. I loved sports, above all, and might well have ended up as a sideline analyst during March Madness, or part of Ted Turner’s other empire, back in the day with the Atlanta Braves. But in college, I was stopped cold by the televised image of a young man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square; it made me think: What is this all about? How did it happen? How did a person so alone simultaneously come to stand for the rights and aspirations of millions – and why are so many people around the world compelled to risk their lives just to obtain freedoms that most of us here just get to take for granted?

…We cannot allow the enemies of civil society to win; we have to fight back with all [our] persuasive powers and organizational skills…and we must persist until the space where people seek to exercise freedom is a safe space.

…On the global stage, in just the past few decades, civil society has helped to end apartheid, extend democracy on every continent, fight back against human trafficking, raise awareness about global warming, and curb the trade in dirty diamonds.

The world today is not enmeshed in a clash of civilizations, but we do face a battle of ideas—and the idea that civil society is an essential contributor to human progress must be defended when and wherever it is in peril.”


and Accountability


January 29, 2014

“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.

…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.

…Crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, including…those who give these orders and then stand back while underlings shed innocent blood. That is why historical records matter. They provide the evidence that can be used to establish personal accountability. And unlike allegations of collective guilt, individual accountability can heal wounds without opening new ones.”


and the Middle East


December 10, 2013

“Let’s start with…whether it is democracy that fuels instability. In Libya, after 40 years in which Qaddafi banned even the most elementary forms of free expression…is it democracy that we should blame for the lawlessness we see today? In Egypt, after decades in which political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite few….should we hold democracy accountable for the current polarization? In Syria, is it democracy that caused Assad to use SCUDS and sarin gas against civilians sleeping in their beds?

…[W]hat we are witnessing in the Middle East actually strengthens, rather than weakens, the case for more open government. The bloodshed today is a toxic outcome not of too much democracy; it is an outcome of decades in which democracy was absent.

We are working to mobilize a multilateral response to the global crackdown on civil society, which is as urgent as anything happening in the world today….The Middle East is no exception. In Iran, as we explore the potential for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, we continue to press for the right of the Iranian people to express themselves freely.

…In Egypt, we have withheld some forms of military assistance—an unprecedented step in our bilateral relationship—because we honor the right of Egyptians—all Egyptians —to express their views peacefully.

…As change comes to the Arab world, it will express itself in ways that reflect Arab perceptions and hopes. Democracy will not bring about some magical convergence of opinions and interests. But it lays the foundation for open and inclusive debate.…[T]he process is one we will recognize, for it is how our own country evolved from its earliest beginnings to where we are today.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Viewpoint: Samantha Power.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2014).