John J. Maresca, Rector of the UPeace, in India recently stressed the need for peace education.
Costa Rica, the first country in the modern world to abolish its army, was chosen to set up the University of Peace (UPeace) in 1980. Established by the United Nations, UPeace is an independent university for postgraduate studies.
Over the years, it has spread its mission by establishing programmes in Africa, Central Asia, the Asia Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and North America. In India, it is working on a project in collaboration with the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir.
John J. Maresca, the Rector of UPeace, has a wealth of experience in conflict mediation. He was an accomplished ambassador and negotiator for the U.S. government. Maresca and also worked in the private sector as Vice President of the oil giant Unocal and president of the Business Humanitarian Forum.
As a U.S. ambassador, Maresca headed the delegation whose negotiations led to the end of the Cold War. He was also a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. Excerpts from an interview:
What makes UPeace different from other peace and conflict studies courses in universities?
I guess what’s different is that we were mandated by the UN for a very specific purpose. The university has built a kind of credo. In our campus, we artificially create a student body that is totally representative — gender and geographically balanced. That creates a special atmosphere.
Our aim is quite specific: to do things based on the UN Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights. The people we produce have a kind of mission that’s related to what is in those documents. For example, a young man who graduated last year went back to Kenya, and was given a job as the acting National High Commissioner for Human Rights. That was right before the events we all know of. So here was a student suddenly catapulted into a central position on a major world human rights issue. This, I think, is perhaps a little bit special.
We also try to reach out to the world. We are doing curriculum building programmes in different universities across the world, trying to find ways to offer this programme of study in different ways to people who can’t or won’t come to our Costa Rica campus. We are also trying to do distance education.
Much of the content is similar to what’s going on in other universities. We get professors and visiting professors from other universities. They go back, refresh their thinking and then teach in their own courses. So it’s great.
It’s difficult to talk of peace because the most powerful forces in the world seem intent on war. How do you think UPeace helps counter that?
I am not naïve. I’ve been involved in many different things that relate to this in different ways including working for the government. My own feeling is that people are fed up with conflict. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.
You probably wouldn’t have found someone like me heading the University for Peace 10 years ago. I would have been sceptical, and people would not have wanted me in that role.
But it’s not unusual any more. What’s changed in the last 10 years is that this sort of thing no longer looks naïve, romantic, idealistic. It is a viable alternative. And even if it’s not an alternative, it is a needed extra.
You’ve played many roles, as a negotiator and in the corporate world. Tell us more about your experiences…
First of all, I was not a conventional ambassador. My role as an ambassador began as a negotiator in 1973, when I was negotiating on human rights with the then Soviet Union.
Later, I came back again as a negotiator at the end of the Cold War. I negotiated several documents, now obscured by history but were elements of the closing of the Cold War. Nobody has heard these days of the Joint Declaration of the 22 States. But that was in fact the declaration by which all of the existing states, including East Germany, declared that the Cold War was over, and no one would have any conflicts again. I negotiated that and several other documents like that.
Later I became a kind of conflict mediator. I was accredited to all the newly independent states. I had my embassy in a plane. It had military attaches, economists and linguists, and we went from one capital city to another to tell them that the US would have a bilateral relationship with them; we would have an embassy there and explained to them what would be the basis of our relationship.
Out of that grew the conflict mediation role, which was very dangerous at times. I was shot at. One night in the Caucasus, I actually lost two bodyguards. So this was not the conventional ambassadorial role. I saw a lot of conflict close by. I’ve written a lot about this – proposals, peace plans and stuff like this.
The Business Humanitarian Forum grew out of working in the private sector. I started writing about Corporate Social Responsibility at a time when people hadn’t heard of it.
When I was in the private sector, I was Vice President of a company for International Relations. My job was to go where people had a problem internationally. That also took me to a lot of conflict areas, like Afghanistan where our oil pipeline project was under cloud of suspicion. Then 9/11 happened and before that Al Qaeda attacked to U.S. embassies in East Africa. I advised the company to get out when that happened.
So, that was another type of experience that gives you some insight into what happens in conflicts and why you need to avoid it. If it had not happened, right now in India, energy would have been cheaper.
What are your plans for UPeace’s expansion in the next few years?
We will try to reach out in as many ways as we can. We are going increase the size of our campus, double it and maybe double it again. The real growth will be programmes in other countries; agreements with universities that will bring student exchanges.
Some teaching programmes of the kind we are doing in this region where our curriculum is transposed and used, or where teachers are trained. Our goal is to reach out to humanity. It is a limitless mandate. So we have to keep reaching out and spread what we are doing.
Source: The Hindu, New Delhi