San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Building a Peaceful World 101

EL RODEO – When Rafael Velásquez grows up hewants to be Secretary General of the United Nations. Orrather, “make his way up the secretariat,” he rephrased, inan apparent effort to minimize his ambition and make hisgoal more realistic.But the 24-year-old Peruvian is ambitious. He alsoseems intelligent, worldly and on the right track to achievinghis aspirations after he graduates from the Universityfor Peace in December with a master’s degree in internationalpeace studies.Velásquez rephrases this as well.“It is now the International Peace and Conflict StudiesDepartment,” he said. “Semantics. Things like that matter.The name (University for Peace) does sound like a lot of tree huggerstuff. But if that were the case, I would not be here.”LIKE all students at the UPEACE campus, located 25kilometers west of San José, Velásquez takes his studiesseriously. Before climbing the U.N. ladder, he hopes tobring more accountability to the institution’s peacekeepingmissions.His thesis proposes an evaluation system for U.N. operations. He says he is more interested instudying “negative peace” – interventionin humanitarian crisis or oppressive governments– than “positive peace” – basedon building a culture of peace that goesbeyond the absence of war.“Negative peace enforcement is thecontroversial side of peace studies, thatyou would not expect to find at a universitylike this,” he said.SINCE UPEACE began reorganizingfive years ago, the school has includedboth types of peace building in its curriculum.This balance, along with a balancebetween practice and theory, has givenVelásquez the fundamentals to develop histhesis, which he said questions things suchas who should be involved in peacekeepingoperations and whether gender isappropriately considered in refugee camps.“The idea is to provide students withspecific skills they can use when facedwith a conflict-ridden environment,”explained UPEACE professor AdedayoAdekson. “For example, if you have warringparties and you are trying to get themto talk, who should be involved? Women?Other minority groups or organizationsthat have similar goals?”The delicate nature of such questionscan be seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, wherewho is invited to the governing table hasbeen a topic of serious debate.IN 2002, U.N. representative LakhdarBrahimi – a veteran of U.N. missions inHaiti, the Congo, Yemen and Sudan –allowed warlords to be involved in theselection of a temporary government,despite criticisms from human rights advocates.Some fear these warlords are nowthreatening Afghanistan’s stability, accordingto press reports.Brahimi is now the special adviser toSecretary General Kofi Annan on the politicalsituation in Iraq. As professor Adeksonpoints out, “there are no easy answers” andevery situation must be taken in its owncontext.Although it is chartered by the UnitedNations, UPEACE does not have to followthe institution’s doctrines regarding suchsensitive matters because it receives noU.N. funding.“WE keep a slight distance from theU.N. in order to guarantee our intellectualintegrity and separateness,” said UPEACErector Martin Lees.“We are not selling any particularbrand, or saying this is the solution, we aresaying here are different opinions, differentcultures, different ideas,” he added,noting that the school’s 89 students comefrom 38 different countries.However, the 25-year-old universitydoes take advantage of its U.N. ties inattracting visiting and full-time professors.“As a U.N. institution, we have accessto basically anybody we like,” Lees said.Peace practitioners working in the fieldin conflict resolution for the UnitedNations or non-government organizationsbring practical knowledge to UPEACEstudents, Adekson added.ADEKSON, who was born in theUnited States, raised in Nigeria and has citizenshipin both, teaches conflict preventionand management, and religious and ethnicdimensions of conflict, focusing on theory.One theory Adekson discusses is theonce widely accepted concept of relativedeprivation. This theory, which is somewhatintuitive, says people will rebelagainst their government if they aredeprived of basic needs, including politicaland civil rights.However, the theory has been challengedin recent years because in somecountries where basic needs are lacking,people do not rebel, and in others wherebasic needs are met, including rights, peopledo rebel.“This is where theory refinementcomes into play,” Adekson said.OTHER renowned peacemakers, suchas 1987 Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias,insist peace is possible only in a world ofdemocratically elected governments wherepeople’s basic needs are met.As long as 1.5 billion people in theworld have no access to clean water, 1.3billion people live on an income of lessthan $1 a day, 35,000 children die eachday from malnutrition and disease, and theworld’s three richest people have assetsthat exceed the combined gross domesticproduct of the poorest 43 countries, peaceis not possible, Arias said at the UPEACEgraduation last June.The Dalai Lama echoed this sentimentduring his visit to Costa Rica this week,when he said the gulf between rich andpoor people is one of the world’s mainsources of conflict (see separate story).THIS is where the “positive peace”aspects of UPEACE’s curriculum comeinto play.The university offers master’s programsin natural resources and sustainabledevelopment and peace education.Students are also diverse in their studies,concentrating on everything from corporatesocial responsibility to Mexicans livingillegally in the United States.Many students graduate and work fornon-governmental organizations or nationalgovernments, others become teachersor return to the professional fieldsthey came from.“There is no such thing as a standardstudent,” Lees said. “We have a judge fromthe United States who decided he wanted toget into world peace and conflict studies.”THE student diversity provides othervaluable lessons, Lees added.“In the evening, they sit in a bar inCiudad Colón and discuss human rights. Ifthere is a Chilean, he will recount the historyof Chile. And then somebody will say,but look at Pakistan,” Lees said.This is fundamental to creating a cultureof peace, agreed UPEACE founderRodrigo Carazo, who helped start the universitywhen he was President of CostaRica (1978-1982).“At the University for Peace, the firstthing we have to learn is to be open. Eachstudent can teach you a lot. The relationshipsbetween people is what educates,” he said.Arias agrees.“Cease-fire agreements often make thenewspaper headlines, but these are the easieststep in the peace process. The realchallenge comes in the following years, inunraveling the knots of hatred and settingthe foundations of tolerance and prosperityfor future generations,” he said.(Next: The history of UPEACE through theeyes of founders Rodrigo Carazo andRobert Muller.)

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