“OMG,” the 42 year-old began in response to the enthusiastic applause given to her at the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit at UCLA on Saturday. “Right back at ya.”
Power, a former war reporter in the Balkans and foreign policy advisor to President Obama, was sworn in early this month, succeeding Susan Rice who moved from the New York post to become national security advisor.
The gathering she addressed on Saturday night was organized by the advocacy group Invisible Children, which was established to document and expose atrocities carried out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an East Africa-based group notorious for mutilating and murdering civilians and forcing tens of thousands of abducted children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.
Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2002 book examining the way the U.S. has responded to 20th century genocides, is an advocate for humanitarian intervention and the U.N.-backed concept known as “responsibility to protect.”
Her nomination as ambassador drew criticism from a number of conservatives who were troubled by some of her past writing and statements.
In her weekend speech at UCLA, Power recalled another conference in California, the April 1945 gathering in San Francisco that gave birth to the U.N.
“That was 68 years ago,” she said. “Memories fade, bureaucracies are built. Positions become entrenched. 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. Sometimes that sense of urgency and determination that existed at the start goes missing.”
Power encouraged her audience to “demand more of it [the U.N.], to make it work better, to build the world that we envision.”
“Today, ordinary citizens don’t just advocate for change and action, they force change and take action themselves,” she said, pointing to the organization’s campaign against the LRA.
The armed group and its leader, Joseph Kony, have been waging an bloody insurgency for more than two decades supposedly aimed at overthrowing the Ugandan government. The International Criminal Court wants Kony and other LRA commanders to face war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.
President George W. Bush in 2001 placed the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List, thereby presenting anyone associated with the group – which his administration described as “a barbaric rebel cult” – from visiting the U.S. In 2008, Kony was named a “specially designated global terrorist” under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists.
In October 2011 Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to advise regional armies in the fight against the LRA.
Last year Kony received unsolicited international publicity after Invisible Children produced a 30-minute online video that went viral, with the YouTube clip alone receiving more than 98 million views. The Kony2012 video, which also drew criticism from some quarters, was cited in bilateral congressional initiatives condemning the fugitive warlord and directing more funding to support efforts to capture or kill him.
Invisible Children has also designed and air-dropped hundreds of thousands of flyers in LRA-affected areas – mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic – urging fighters to defect, while similar “come home” messages featuring former LRA members and family members are beamed over radio stations.
Power in her speech praised the campaigners, and said “this new generation understands that the video is not what matters, the number of Twitter followers is not what matters.”
“What matters is the real world scoreboard. And the scoreboard doesn’t measure hits or tweets any more than it measures the number of times the Security Council meets on an issue. The scoreboard measures whether more LRA soldiers are defecting and whether fewer people are dying,” she said.
Invisible Children recently reported that LRA killings decreased by 67 percent in 2012 while more LRA fighters had defected during 2012 than in the previous two years combined. It cites data sourced from an early-warning radio network, the U.N. and local non-governmental organizations.