Power encourages activists, criticizes UN in first speech as ambassador

Samantha Power encouraged young human rights activists and criticized the United Nations late Saturday in her first speech as U.N. ambassador.

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Speaking at the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit in Los Angeles, Power said reports of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia started her on the path to her current position and understanding of the role of citizen activists.

“It turns out you have the power,” she told the audience, made up of high school and college students, educators and activists. “Today, ordinary citizens don’t just advocate for change and action. They force change and they take action themselves.”

Power also criticized the United Nations, saying that bureaucracies and positions have become entrenched since it was formed almost 70 years ago.

“And while the U.N. has done tremendous good in the world, there are times when the organization has lost its way -- when politics and ideology get in the way of impact,” she said. “Sometimes that sense of urgency and determination that existed at the start goes missing.”

Power praised the Invisible Children, the non-profit organization opposed to Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which hosted the summit.

“If you’ve ever doubted that your activism matters, just think that the Kony video you made go viral was sent by high school kids in Massachusetts to their senator, who joined with his colleagues to write a law that President Obama signed to create a rewards program to apprehend Kony and his thugs. 

“And a few months ago, that senator from Massachusetts – now Secretary of State John Kerry – announced that thanks to that law, thanks to you, the State Department was offering the first cash rewards to bring the LRA killers to justice,” she added.

The U.S. government has designated Kony as a war criminal and the LRA as a terrorist organization. Kony and his army have killed thousands of Africans, and forces children into service.

President Obama has sent U.S. military and intelligence agents to the region to aid central African countries in the capture of Kony. 

“The new tools that make progress possible can also be used to hold it back,” Power warned. “Those who seek to repress their own people and export fear are as savvy as the next generation of human rights activists.

“That’s why we need your positive moral vision more than ever. We need your vision of justice to win over those who fear it. We need your vision of freedom to overwhelm those who rely on oppression. We need your vision of equality and tolerance to overcome those who propagate division and terror. And we need you to act so that that vision – your vision – prevails.”