DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. All this week we have been marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide - three months of slaughter that left nearly a million people dead. Today we ask whether history is repeating itself. As a journalist and scholar, Samantha Power wrote a lot about what she considered America's failure to intervene in Rwanda.
Now she's part of the U.S. government as ambassador to the United Nations. Power led the American delegation to memorial services in Rwanda this past Monday. On her way home she visited the Central African Republic, a country where conditions are being compared to the genocide that was carried out two decades ago.
SAMANTHA POWER: Our delegation there met with a mother whose two children had been killed on the way to go to church. We saw terrified Muslim citizens who are desperate to know that they will have the protection of the international community.
GREENE: The U.N. says 400,000 people have fled Christian-Muslim violence. Aid groups say half the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. What little security exists is provided by several thousand African peacekeepers, supported by a smaller French force. Now, when we spoke with Ambassador Power, she had just come out of a U.N. Security Council meeting which authorized a U.N. peacekeeping force of 12,000 troops. We began our conversation with the question of whether the international community has waited too long.
POWER: The truth is that over these months we have been steadily increasing the number of troops on the ground, even up to this point, but it's clear that beyond stopping the emergency that is underway, we also need to lay a foundation for the kind of security that would allow displaced persons and refugees to come back to their homes.
And it's going to take a lot of security presence for them to feel the kind of confidence after what they've gone through.
GREENE: It will take a lot of security presence, you're saying, and this U.N. force won't be ready until September. Is that soon enough to start making a difference?
POWER: Well, starting now we are seeking to get units deployed to supplement what is on the ground. So the Chadians have just departed. The European Union pledged 1,000 troops a couple months ago but they have not yet deployed in full. So that needs to be expedited. And then we don't want to wake up on September 15 when the U.N. formally takes over and start mobilizing troops to get up to 12,000 at that point.
We want those troops to be moving in incrementally so that on September 15 we'll have a full force.
GREENE: But are you worried that this is all happening too late, given the situation there? Which you know very well since you just got back.
POWER: Well, it is a devastating situation and nobody should sugarcoat it in any way. But everything we do is itself an act of prevention. The more security we have the more people who will be safe.
But I want to be clear, our challenge is not an absence of will, it is that the number of emergencies right now on the continent - including the Central African Republic, including Darfur, including South Sudan, which has deteriorated, and of course including Mali - it's placing a lot of demand on African countries.
GREENE: I wonder if the genocide in Rwanda is a backdrop to the crises that you're talking about and the crisis in the Central African Republic. And aren't there lessons there that should be making things happen faster at moments like this?
POWER: Well, I think the response to the Central African Republic is night and day from that to Rwanda. I mean the level of commitment is much greater than that we saw 20 years ago. We are seeking to get the heaviest and most capable force in there as soon as possible.
Recalling Rwanda, the response of the international community was to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers who were already on the ground. We are seeking to build up a very small force that existed when the crisis originally started, and again, we already have 7,000 or 8,000 troops on the ground with more on the way.
GREENE: You know, a decade or so ago you were very famous for criticizing the Clinton administration's response in Rwanda and pushing much harder for the world and the United States to respond faster in humanitarian crises. How does that Samantha Power from before feel working inside the government now? I mean are the realities like you're talking about, you know, things so spread thin, questions about funding - are those new realities that you sort of have to accept or is the old Samantha Power there and kind of just having to restrain herself?
POWER: Well, the old Samantha Power is the new Samantha Power; they get to talk to each other every day.
POWER: And have sustained dialogues. No, I feel privileged. I mean, look, if I were outside government now I'd be writing editorials and seeking meetings with the U.N. ambassador, seeking meetings with the secretary of state. Instead I get to work with the secretary of state every day, who's as committed to I am to dealing with the problem.
I get to talk to the president about it, who has committed $100 million to get African forces in there in as timely a fashion as possible in tough budget times. So I'm in a much better position now to try to affect both the pace and the scope of our response, and we've come a long way. But no, neither the new Samantha Power nor the old Samantha Power can be satisfied when you still have Muslim and Christian civilians who are living in great fear.
GREENE: What are those conversations like between the old Samantha Power and the new Samantha Power?
POWER: We get along okay, but we're hard on each other.
GREENE: And what would the old Samantha Power be saying now to the new Samantha Power who is in a position to...
POWER: Move quickly. You know, go and mobilize these forces now that you've authorized them, and that's what we're seeking to do.
GREENE: Ambassador Power, thanks very much for the time.
POWER: Thank you, David.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.