A call to nations to prevent genocide
Author of 'A Problem From Hell' says opposing mass violence wherever it occurs is a matter of national security
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A table is adorned with flowers, a reminder of her National Magazine Award last month for public-interest reporting. The winning article, published in the Atlantic Monthly in September 2001, argued that the United States basically stepped aside as 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda (www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/09/power.htm).Skip to next paragraph
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Power points out a copy of the July 12, 1995, Washington Post front page that included her account of the Srebrenica massacre.
She had pressed to have the story run earlier, to highlight the impending threat to Muslims in the region. The fact that it didn't, motivated her to strike out in a different direction that might help influence foreign policy a fascination since her college days.
Coming to America from Ireland at age 9 with her mother and stepfather, she attended high school in Atlanta. Later, she entered Yale University, wanting to be a sportscaster. "But I happily got sidetracked and consumed by the war in Bosnia," she recalls.
Shortly after graduation, armed with a new computer and the determination to see why innocent people were dying, she flew to the Balkans.
For two and a half years, she wrote as a freelance journalist for a number of national publications. It was frustration with an editor who wanted a Srebrenica story only after the massacre, however, that spurred her to enroll in Harvard Law School to get international law credentials.
Now, she helps oversee a research, teaching, and training program she hopes will "mainstream" discussions of human rights policy questions because they're relevant to American security.
"You can't just lament genocide," she says. "We do so little about violence when it's ongoing that we're often stuck in clean-up mode. We try to understand how you can both look out for security interests and protect the values that are the best long-term guarantees of your security. The vision would be to do for human rights policy what environmental scientists did for environmental policy."
Her goal for her book is to help readers learn to speak out. "Don't be afraid to make moral arguments in a world that speaks principally of interests," she says. "As citizens, make noise."
These days, she noisily opposes America's decision to renounce formally any involvement in the International Criminal Court, which is designed to prosecute individuals for genocide. "Are we going to sit back and let this happen, or are we going to send letters to the editor, to our congressmen?" she asks. "Take little steps. Pick up the phone. Pick up a pen."
Power chafes at the notion that "human rights is a kind of charity work. After Sept. 11, she says, there's ripeness the potential to mobilize a political constituency, to understand the long-term consequences of allowing genocide.
"Instead of marginalizing upstanders as soft and irrational," she says, "we have to send a message that there will be a political price to be paid for looking the other way. Unless regular people and not just human rights people start to identify with upstanders, we'll always be saying 'never again.' "