Who Is… Samantha Power?

Samantha Power addresses reporters on evidence of Syrian chemical weapons attacks collected by U.N. investigators.-photo by: Stan Honda

Personal Background and Education

Ambassador Power was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to the U.S. with her family at the age of nine.  She holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.  Power’s first profession was that of field journalist.  She covered the Yugoslav Wars and reported from Rwanda and Sudan.  Power was later the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government from 1998 to 2002.  Here, she also became the Ann Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy.  She is married to Cass Sunstein, and they have two children.

Professional Experience

On August 2nd, 2013, Dr. Samantha Power became the acting U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN (she replaced Susan Elizabeth Rice as the nominee in June) and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.  Dr. Power’s previous posts under the Obama administration include Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council from 2009 to 2013.  During this time she also directed the fledgeling Atrocities Prevention Board. In these positions, Power directed efforts toward UN reform, advocated for LGBT and women’s rights,  addressed human trafficking and the safeguarding of religious minorities.

Now, in case you are feeling a bit winded just from reading a resume (I know I am), there is a reason why Power’s work, and resulting appointment as U.N. Ambassador, is so crucial to organizations like Living Ubuntu and the victimized and oppressed around the globe… her unwavering commitment to human rights, specifically in the Middle East, North Africa, Sudan and Burma.

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Kachin Refugees are Facing Food Shortages in Burma

A Kachin child at a temporary shelter for refugees in Laiza, Kachin State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A Kachin child at a temporary shelter for refugees in Laiza, Kachin State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Despite the positive changes that have emerged under the new government led by President Thein Sein, critics say much more needs to be done before refugees can return to Burma and peace and security become a reality for Burma’s citizens.

Case in point, thousands of Kachin refugees are facing food shortages as fighting between Burmese troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has escalated, preventing UN aid agencies from transporting supplies to camps along the Sino-Burmese border. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) sent aid in March and April, but has been unable to do so this month because the government army has stepped up its offensive near Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA, according to the Kachin relief group.

With no end to the conflict in sight, there are also growing concerns about how the refugees will cope in the coming rainy season. So it is not surprising that a dozen ethnic armed groups, including those who have signed preliminary ceasefire agreements, like the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) that urge the US and Europe to keep their sanctions on Burma. These ethnic leaders realize that Burma’s military shouldn’t be rewarded for ongoing aggression and human rights abuses.

“It is necessary for the international community to oppose and pressure the [Burma Army] for its wrong actions. They are calling on the international community “not to suspend or lift the remaining political, military, financial and economic sanctions.”

The UNFC have now set a deadline of June 10, 2012: If the Burma military doesn’t’ stop its aggression by then, the other existing ceasefire agreements will possibly be suspended.  This could lead to a complete breakdown of ceasefire talks and a widespread escalation of violence in Burma.

“The US government should not reward the Burmese government’s nascent and untested changes by allowing an unregulated business bonanza,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Beyond Unethical: Corporations Profit Billions from Abusing Congolese While the World Stands Idly By

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

DRC’s soil is reputed to contain every mineral listed on the periodic table in large, untapped amounts. On top of that, 80% of the minerals that fuel our technology, cell phones, electronics, cars, and computers come from Congo. Yet, DRC is the world’s poorest country and least developed in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators. While multinational corporations and governments exploit and maltreat Congolese to make our phones turn on or cars run, we as consumers also have played a complicit role in the devastating fate of Congo’s plight.

The largest commodities company in the world, Glencore, has used children as young as ten to recover cobalt and copper 150 feet underground hand dug shafts with no breathing or protective equipment in Tilwezembe mine in the Congo.

“All the way down there are ghostly-looking figures digging for copper, coated in choking grey dust. There are no safety standards. No one wears a hard hat. In the midst of all this, there are some boys working with bare hands and bare feet. We saw boys standing waist deep in toxic water, washing soil away from nuggets of copper.” John Sweeney, BBC Panorama investigation

The number of accidents at Tilwezembe is extraordinarily high: Panorama was told that 60 miners died there last year, making the mine one of the most dangerous in the world. One 16-year-old said accidents were commonplace and fatal rockfalls routine.

The notoriously secretive Swiss-based company and reportedly the supplier of 50 percent of the world’s copper, Glencore PLC, is also accused of dumping raw acid and toxic waste from their Luilu refinery straight into the local river 24/7.

The Luilu river is used by local people to wash and fish, but downstream of the Glencore pipe the water is acidic, extremely dangerous, brown sludge, according to a Panorama investigation. They tested the acidity of the wastewater and found a pH value of 1.9, where 1 is pure acid and 7 neutral.

Glencore’s acid waterfall stank of toxic fumes when BBC reporter John Sweeney visited a few weeks ago. One local Congolese complained:

“Fish can’t survive the acid. Glencore lacks any respect for people. No one would do that to another human being. It’s shocking.”

While children’s lives and the environment are severely botched and damaged, Glencore said it wants to raise its total investments in the Congo to 3.3 billion dollars by the end of the year. The company is hoping to merge with Xstrata, another mining company based in Switzerland, to create a behemoth with $90 billion in assets.

Two Swiss NGOs, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All published its findings on Glencore’s unethical practices April 16 as a followup to an earlier report when Glencore was listed on the stock market in 2011. Without the diligent devotion of these NGOs and activists like ourselves, we would be in the dark not only be about the horrible injustices committed by corporations but also our complicit roles in their actions.

It’s hard to even describe the horror and heart-wrenching sentiment I feel toward these corporations that kill for money. How low can we go? Not only did Glencore take in $186 billion in revenue last year, but its founder, Marc Rich who has been on FBI’s Top Ten list but was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Our actions and heavily-technology-dependent tendencies have profound impacts on populations halfway across the globe.

How Much More Will It Take?

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

SUDAN & SOUTH SUDAN

“They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps” displaced witness from North Darfur said to Radio Dabanga.

More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. In an area in the center of the Darfur region, Jebel Marra, the Sudanese army has continuously been bombing the villages of Nari, Jerri, Sinjo, Amra Rashid, Kaya, Fatah and Amar Jadid. This has forced more than 30,000 to flee to nearby areas, trying to find shelter in the harsh mountainous terrain where there is no water.

In addition, fighting along the border between the two nations, and aerial bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces into the territory of South Sudan have intensified. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded with Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday to withdraw troops from the disputed Abyei region amid. Sudanese fleeing from Abyei, are now nearly destitute after missing harvests and exhausting the scant resources of local communities in the newly-independent, impoverished south.

There is some hopeful news. President Obama on Tuesday provided $26 million to tackle the urgent and developing refugee crisis brought on by violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“We continue to call upon the government of Sudan to allow full and unfettered access for international humanitarian agencies to South Kordofan and Blue Nile to provide emergency assistance to those in need.” President Obama

The situation is ongoing though and extremely dire, there are 30,000 refugees stranded just in the dusty border town of Yida, between Sudan and South Sudan. How many more lives on the line, how many more pictures of wounded, starving children need to be viewed, how many more devastating and heartbreaking stories are going to be published before there is an end to the humanitarian crisis?

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

“We are very concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in South Kivu, especially in the northern part of the province, in Shabunda, Walungu and Kalehe territories,” Laetitia Courtois, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation in Bukavu.

The fighting is intensifying in the DRC and the civilian population is suffering and paying the highest price. The ICRC has evacuated 53 civilian field casualties, including 18 children, from areas in which fighting was taking place and arranged for them to be treated in hospitals in Bukavu. Tens of thousands of people recently fled their homes in North Kivu Province, following attacks by armed groups and ensuing military operations by the national army. At the end of March, a large proportion of the population in the outskirts of Beni, North Kivu, fled their homes following the killing, raping and looting of villagers by armed men. UNHCR reported 33 attacks in north-eastern DRC.

Regrettably, the unstable security environment is just the beginning.  If civilians aren’t killed by armed groups, they die from limited access to health care.

“For the wounded, the ability to obtain care quickly often makes the difference between life and death.” – Courtois.

How do we stop so many gruesome civilian casualities? One man living in Congo, is taking matters into his own hands. Freddy Mwenengabo has gone on a hunger strike since March 4 to urge the Canadian government to address the human rights issues in Congo. He said he is willing to die for the cause because it will be one more death added to the millions who have already died. This is a drastic plea for change but the media and government have taken notice. It makes me wonder, do we have starve ourselves, see celebrities get arrested, and go to great lengths just to grab enough attention to push for change?

BURMA

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Sunday wasn’t just April Fool’s Day but a historic day for Burma’s democracy as it held elections after decades. Although official results have yet to be released, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in a milestone by-election.

The US has declared that it is ready to relax sanctions on Burma, easing a ban on American companies investing in or offering financial services to the country.

“This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the US was ready to allow private US aid groups to pursue non-profit activities on projects such as democracy building, health and education, and to give select Burmese officials and politicians permission to visit the US. Washington wants Burma to free all political prisoners, lift restrictions on those who have already been released, seek national reconciliation, and to end military ties to North Korea. I cannot help to think that the ease of sanctions is either a blessing or curse. Just because Burma is on the road to democracy, doesn’t mean the West can push for its demands on how the country should be run.  It is not easy to build a new country after half a century of authoritarian rule, and we should monitor Burma’s developments and embrace progress without overstepping our ‘big brother’ role.

Hopefully Not too Little too Late

Gen Gun Maw addresses the standing committee in Laiza, Kachin State (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

With Sudan and South Sudan presidents meeting eminent, it’s evermore pertinent to draw attention to the growing human catastrophe in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. United to End Genocide is advocating March 16 as the national day of action for Sudan in response to the escalating crisis.

Furthermore, on March 7 a new piece of legislation, the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act was introduced in the House of Representatives to propel immediate action. Implementing the legislation includes holding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his forces fully accountable with strengthened and increased sanctions, and immediately working to ensure the delivery of food to prevent mass starvation as a result of genocide by attrition.  Take action here.

“We welcome the introduction of strong bipartisan legislation to address the blockade of food and humanitarian aid and the ongoing bombing of civilians that has put the lives of 500,000 people at risk in Sudan.” – Tom Andrews, United to End Genocide President

George Clooney and John Prendergast, who together co-founded the Satellite Sentinel Project, just returned from Sudan’s troubled Nuba Mountains region in the hopes of bringing attention to and potentially heading off hostilities. They spoke and gave their report to Washington and the Council on Foreign Relations March 14. Watch their video clip here:

http://www2.americanprogress.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=205

“There’s a difference between two armies fighting and what the Geneva Convention calls war crimes.We saw that very specifically happening on two occasions: rape, starvation, lack of humanitarian aid. They’re scaring the hell out of these people and they’re killing, hoping and trying to get them just to leave.” – George Clooney, Activist for Sudan.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

A top commander of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, Lt. Colonel Bizimana, has surrendered to the UN mission in South Kivu. A joint military offensive between the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army pressured Lt. Colonel Bizimana, also known as Idrissa Muradadi, to turn himself in along with three of his bodyguards. He is being processed through the Demobilization Disarmament Rehabilitation, Repatriation and Reintegration (DDRRR) and awaiting extradition to Rwanda.

The FDLR, operating in Eastern Congo, is known for their destructive attacks and brutality against civilians. They are comprised of primarily former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and interahamwe, responsible for killing 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“It’s very good news for us because the surrender of Idrissa will also have a demoralizing effect on his troops and we are expecting to see a lot of the FDLR [rebels] surrender in the coming days.”  – MONUSCO spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai

I am surprised by the surrender but wonder how the outcome will turn out. The integration process has become extremely messy because of the convolution and mixed loyalties created by the number of armed factions. To add to the calamity, just because Bizimana surrendered to MONUSCO doesn’t necessarily mean any problems are solved because both UN officials and Congolese army officials have been reported to have killed, raped, and endangered innocent civilians. Thus, we must continue to seek sustainable and ingenious ways to solve this dreadfully complex conflict and the rampant impunity that plagues the DRC.

In light of this surrender, the ICC’s first verdict on March 14 has found Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers during the DRC conflict. While the case may help set a precedent for other cases involving the recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC has much work to do with the trying, process, and sentencing of war criminals.

BURMA

The government has signed provisional ceasefires with several armed ethnic groups in recent months as part of political reform in the country, but has resulted without agreement and an end to fighting with the Kachin ethnic group. Most recently, daily clashes have prompted the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government to hold peace talks.

“Negotiations have not yet yielded any agreement. There needs to be more discussions about the withdrawal of Burmese army bases from the region. We will continue to talk until we reach an agreement.” – Gen Gun Maw, the deputy military chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The KIO says it wants government troops to withdraw from their bases in Kachin strongholds before it signs any ceasefire with the government. The government delegation, though, has maintained that such issues can only be discussed after a ceasefire is in place. President Thein Sein ordered an end to fighting with Kachin rebels December 10 of last year, but the hostilities between the two continue.

We follow UN envoy to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana’s call on the Burmese government to develop a plan to “officially engage with ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue and to resolve long-standing and deep-rooted concerns.”

In light of Ambassador Derek Mitchell’s current presence in Burma this week, a petition has been launched to increase civilian protection. We hope you will make time for this action: Support Ethnic People of Burma: Tell Ambassador Mitchell to Protect Ethnic Civilians.

Vote for Genocide-Free Investing!

Do you hold shares in Fidelity funds?

If so, you may have the opportunity to vote for genocide-free investing! Click here for more info.

What does your vote mean? Your vote will work toward instituting “procedures to prevent holding investments in companies that, in the judgment of the board, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity, the most egregious violations of human rights.”

“Trapped in Places of Perpetual Insecurity”

A recent study conducted by US-based Physicians for Human Rights reports that over 50% of Darfuri women at a refugee camp in Chad continue to feel threatened by sexual violence.

Many of these women experienced rape in Darfur, fleeing to Chad to escape suffering. Yet in Chad, their place of refuge, sexual violence is alive and well.

According to the deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights -

The women live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now…trapped in places of perpetual insecurity.

Regarding mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir maintains that “there is no document or evidence, just accusations”.

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