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Uphold our principles through the vestiges of tragedy

In almost two years we’ve covered numerous stories about the challenging path to recovery and reconstruction for Haiti – since the earthquake that split our collective memory and testimony into two – before and after January 12, 2010. Throughout these stories, Haiti’s people remain at the core, whether it’s the encouraging stories of neighbors helping each other restore a sense of normalcy or those of protests against the oppression and malfeasance of the country’s leaders along with its international benefactors. An engaged diaspora heeds the renewed call to invest their talents and energy to contribute to the next chapter of the Haitian struggle – and what some claim -- an unfinished revolution.

Here in the states, there is one such event that has divided the American consciousness of time in two: September 11, 2001. For the past 10 years Americans (and many around the world who stand in solidarity) have mourned and memorialized loved ones, and displayed gratitude to the hundreds who tried to save them. The government has waged two wars, while beefing up security measures and economic endeavors to rebuild an economy that remains fragile as a result of that treacherous attack.

Of the many lessons to be learned from such human tragedies that befall nations -- and the subsequent actions taken to prevent future calamity – we should always put the value of human life first. Individually and locally, there were many striking examples of this. From the first responders in New York City to the humanitarian aid workers in Port-au-Prince, courage guided the actions of ordinary servants to brave extraordinary circumstances for one purpose: to save and protect lives.

However, the policies of the federal government at home and abroad do not always prioritize human life nor do they reflect the agreed principles upon which we adhere to on a global level. The litany of human rights abuses rendered in the name of justice is countless – from unlawful detainment driven by prejudice, to violation of privacy necessitated by intelligence gathering. The manner in which our government – a democratic government – implements policies that reflect this country’s value of life was challenged on September 11th. President George W. Bush was partially correct when he asserted that the terrorists hated our freedoms.

Yet, his administration missed the ball when policies were enacted based on that premise alone. What the terrorists might have hated mattered. But what this country stands for matters more: ahead of economic interest, ahead of military might, ahead of exceptionalism.

It wasn’t just the American Dream that drove, (and continue to beckon) millions of immigrants to these shores. It’s the fact that this country’s laws and policies are governed by the principles inspired by a shared vision – where self-evident truths are protected by the value placed on human life.

Internationally, US relations with Haiti remain a prime example of these shortcomings. In Haiti, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the leading security force on the ground, as the UN remains the prevailing international presence there. However, the United States continues to play a leading role in Haiti, given the long history with its oldest neighbor. Policies crafted for foreign intervention on the island have long been criticized for their focus to align with the powerful elite and less on the worth of the marginalized majority.

The latest instances of human rights abuses of alleged sexual assault and exploitation by UN soldiers shed light on this chronic moral dilemma. That a peacekeeping mission has inadvertently brought a deadly disease, cholera, and now violations of personal safety, stands in complete contradiction to a core objective of the UN’s mandate in Haiti: to promote and to protect human rights.

If we are to truly heal from tragedy, we must not tire in examining where we go wrong in our struggle to restore our standing. And since that standing is what is always at risk when we face enormous challenge, we can’t shy away from the responsibility of self-government to uphold the principles that make us who we are.