The long neglected nation of Haiti is finally the focus of the
world’s attention, even if a 7.0 magnitude earthquake is in tight competition
with ten centimetres of snowfall for UK headlines. I’ve just heard a
prominent Republican advocating turning Haiti into a UN protectorate on
a BBC World Service Newshour special on the country’s humanitarian needs. The idea of establishing Haiti as a UN protectorate has been circulating
for some time, but the notion of revoking the hard-fought independence
of the first truly postcolonial country is naturally tainted.
fear is that otherwise crisis led pledges will last only as long as the
attention of the news media. But for all the gestures of support donned
by the international community, one genuine remedy is yet to be
prescribed; the relocation of United Nations’ headquarters from uptown
New York to the ruins of Port-au-Prince. Such a move would, without
impinging Haitian sovereignty jealously guarded since independence,
signal the necessary commitment and investment to rebuilding that which
was destroyed and much more, while bringing beneficial byproducts to
the wider global community.
The two cities are clearly worlds apart, regardless of suburban American intellectual’s virulent paranoia of the third world creeping
into America’s urban centres. UNHQ would bring massive economic
stimulus to one of the world’s most deprived cities. It has in total
15,000 employees, while 2,230 diplomats are on permanent assignment in
New York. In 2007, renovation plans were announced for the New York
compound at a cost of $1billion. By comparison, the UK has so far
pledged just £6million
to help rebuild Haiti. In a country with a GDP, before the earthquake
struck, of $6.9billion, the influx of such sums would be of huge
The UN’s present location, an internationalised
strip of the largest, richest city in the richest and most powerful
country in the world is far from hallowed, and has often been
criticised. Britain, France and the Netherlands voted against
its location in the US before the secretariat had any permanent abode.
More recently, the UN itself put forward plans to relocate to Singapore, while Canada and Dubai have both offered to host the UN during its renovation.
Haiti seems far more suitable a location. It is not the centre of a discredited financial system, nor a contender to the country most responsible
for the failure to reach a significant agreement in Copenhagen. It is a
country that bore many of the movements of which humanity is most
proud; its 1801 constitution enshrined
racial equality, democratic government, legal equality, individual
liberty and self determination, no matter how each was forsaken in the
last two hundred years.
It would also ensure the world,
represented by the 2,000 plus diplomats passing through the streets,
never forgot the challenge of poverty, crime and disease or the legacy
of slavery, colonialism and misrule. It would send a signal to the
global south that the UN was the forum for truly global cooperation and
the representative of the entire world’s people. It might help ease the
North-South deadlock that has paralysed, among other important reforms,
the long advocated expansion of the Security Council.
who will no doubt include staff attached to the restaurants and bars of
midtown, are likely to cite the insecurity of a now more dangerous and
instable capital. Yet the commitment to locating UNHQ, and with it the
inevitable presence of the world’s most important individuals, to Haiti
will make the city, like the banking institutions rescued in the
financial crisis, ‘too big to fail’. The cost of security will be high,
but for every private security guard accompanying each diplomatic
vehicle, some portion of their work will be siphoned into a well of
public good, enjoyed by ordinary Haitians as well as diplomats, their
aides and families. Securing a country as wretched as Haiti will leave
a rejuvenated UN an incontestable legacy of success in at least one
corner of the world.
Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal is the editor of openSecurity, openDemocracy’s security coverage section. This article has been republished under a Creative Commons licence from openDemocracy.net.