UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power faced some tough questions during her first day on the job on Monday, but they did not come from other U.N. Security Council envoys - instead she was grilled by refugee students in New York City.
At the International Rescue Committee's Refugee Youth Summer Academy in downtown Manhattan, students asked Power questions ranging from how did she meet President Barack Obama to would she send troops to Afghanistan and her thoughts on communism.
"My job in the Security Council will be much easier than answering your questions," joked Power, a former journalist who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the U.S. government's failure to prevent genocide in the 20th century.
But when she attends her first meeting of the 15-member body on Tuesday, she will meet with a Security Council deadlocked over how to try to end the two-year civil war in Syria that has sent more than 1.8 million people fleeing to other countries.
Russia, an ally and arms supplier of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and China have three times blocked action against Assad's government supported by the remaining veto powers - the United States, Britain and France.
During her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington last month, Power, 42, described the inaction of the Security Council on Syria as "a disgrace that history will judge harshly."
An outspoken rights defender, Power is using her first week on the job to flag her activism. On Friday she will chat online with rights advocates and on Saturday she will address a summit organized by Invisible Children, a group best known for a viral video urging the arrest of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.
"I'm a great believer ... that U.S. foreign policy should be about individuals," Power told the refugee students in New York, who came from Tibet, Sudan, China, Iran, Russia and elsewhere. "Every time we make decisions as a government we should think about people like you and the countries that you came from."
Iain Levine, Human Rights Watch deputy executive director for program, said Power's background in human rights and her early commitment to make the issue a top priority are "heartening but she will be judged on her ability to make a difference for victims of abuses in these places and elsewhere."
"Ambassador Power will face the harsh realities of the U.N. right away, with a Security Council once more deadlocked in the face of massive human right abuses in Syria, Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.
Amnesty International USA Deputy Director Frank Jannuzi said he hoped Power would work to hold accountable "not just perceived U.S. adversaries but also U.S. friends" like Bahrain for alleged human rights violations.
"There's a reason to be hopeful," Jannuzi said of Power's appointment. "She has never been a person who's just about talk, we're waiting for her to deliver."
He also urged Power to help make the United Nations more nimble in its ability to respond to humanitarian crises. Power, a former White House national security staffer, plans to visit the U.N. Operations and Crisis Center on Friday.
At the Refugee Youth Summer Academy - a six-week program that helps prepare newly arrived refugees aged 5 to 19 for the New York school system - Power likened her first day on the job to their first day at school.
"Like me you'll probably think about what you'll wear and will it go well and will people like me," she said. "Every time you do something new it's scary."
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jackie Frank