University for Peace Community Liason Group

- a concerned citizens initiative -

(Our group is independent of and has no formal approval from the University for Peace)

 

 

Censorship on UN territory
GaŰlle SÚvenier

November 12th 2003


Radio for Peace Intertional two floor building constructed with donations

Maurice Strong, president of UPeace

The members of Radio for Peace International (RFPI), a radio station broadcasting "the voice of the voiceless" internationally from San JosÚ, Costa Rica, have been occupying their station's building for the past two weeks to protest against an eviction ordered by the University for Peace (UPeace), a United Nations created organ. The radio station claims the eviction to be "an act of censorship for political reasons" as a response to their alternative views and anti globalization statements.


RFPI shut down and wrapped around barbed wire

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression" states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This statement does not seam to apply to the United Nations-mandated University for Peace, which silenced the voice of RFPI, Wednesday November 5th .

For the first time in 16 years, the radio station went off the air after the university cut off the power to the transmitting building. Not only did the radio have to deal with locked gates and armed guards for the past 3 months, but today the University has wrapped barbed wire around the steel gates - once used to keep cattle out and now serving as a reminder that the radio is no longer welcome in the UPeace campus.

"At least they haven't electrified the barbwire" told James Latham to the Tico Times. The director, along with members and listeners, have been sleeping in the radio station for the past two weeks, collecting water from buckets of rain water as UPeace cut off the water, the electricity and the phone lines from the building. Latham told the press that if food were prevented from being brought into the station by outsiders, the staff would be forced to go on a hunger strike. At a minimum, RFPI is asking to be indemnified for the construction of the building. RFPI self-financed the two storey building through donations, after Rodrigo Corazo Odio, ex-president of Costa Rica and first rector of UPeace, invited them to broadcast from the university campus in 1985.

For the UPeace representative, Costa-rican lawyer Luis Varela, the conflict between UPeace and RFPI is purely economical. He claims that the only reason for the eviction that the University is required to provide is that they want to terminate the legal contract that authorized the functioning of the radio station on the university campus in 1992. "It is like a divorce in the United States," he added, "we don't have to give a reason."

For sixteen years, RFPI broadcast messages of tolerance, pointing out injustices, corruption, human rights abuses and environmental problems throughout the world, in total harmony with five consecutive administrations of the University for Peace. Today, the new administration has decided to silence the radio, without providing any reason.

Maurice Strong censoring anti globalization's statements

A change in the administration of the UPeace took place in 1999. Maurice Strong, Special Adviser to the United Nations and the World Bank, was nominated President of the Council of UPeace. The Canadian millionaire is criticized by some for being "a heavyweight globalist, who has risen to global prominence largely because of his uncanny ability to manipulate people and institutions."

Strong promised that nothing would change in the University, "except that more money would come in, since UPeace was having financial difficulties," explains Latham. "However, there have been many changes: Strong put his friends in top positions. At least fifteen people have been laid off without pay, and the radio station received an eviction notice last July saying that we had to leave, without mentioning a reason why."

For Latham, there is no doubt that the eviction is an act of political censorship by Maurice Strong, who is "directly responsible for shutting down the radio station." According to the RFPI director, the eviction is directly related to anti-military and anti-globalization statements broadcast by RFPI. "We have been very critical in our anti-globalization reports, that's probably something Strong, working with organization such as the World Bank, may feel very nervous about. There is also the new Human Security training."

The University's new focus: from Peace to Security

RFPI recently started to investigate the activities of the University, and they have found "interesting things" that have occurred in the last years. "Since September 11th, the University has changed its concept," mentions James Latham. "There is a new focus on security. For a human rights organization, it is difficult to obtain funding, but for an organization promoting security, it is easier."

Emily Morales, RFPI's operations manager, explains that for Costa Ricans like herself, it was an honor to have a Peace University in the country, "but when I came here, I realized that they have changed their focus. They are money makers, not a peace making organization, and it is not convenient to have a radio station next door saying something different from them."

RFPI's legal attorney, Arcelio Hernandez, wrote a long letter to our reporter underlining how "important [it is] for the press to be vigilent as for what is going on the campus of thie University for Peace. This University has been using it's status of immunity to get away with all it's responsibilities. Among them are the illegal lay-off of employes, about which I have much proof."

Many people in Costa Rica claim to have problems with the Upeace. Patricia Navarro Molina, Costa-rican journalist, ex-coordinador of the "Peace Culture and Democracy in Central America" which was closed for no reason by the Upeace, also wrote to our reporter that she "saw and lived the injustices committed by Upeace management, especially since the presidency of Maurice Strong." Among other accusations, she lists "the lay off of a pregnant Nicaraguan lady on her return day from maternity leave," the "humiliation of staff members who do not speak English", "the huge amount of money given away for unnecessary services," and more.

RFPI director explains that the radio station being located in the backyard of the University, able to "report on them" and on what they do "probably made them very nervous", which is, likely, the reason why they decided to evict RFPI.


UPeace collaborating with the School of the Americas

RFPI found out that UPeace has relationships with the School of the Americas. The US Army School of Americas (SOA), based in the state of Georgia in the United States (now renamed WHISC) is known for training Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics training. "Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. The SOA has come to UPeace," criticizes Latham. "There is a big plaque from the SOA thanking UPeace in the University. I thought it was hypocritical and sad. There is also a plaque from the Honduran military. We have started to talk about all this since the crisis started."

Latham and Morales believe that there might be some collaboration between the University and the the Pentagon. Members of the military might be getting masters degrees specialized in Human Rights from UPeace so that "it gives them a green-wash effect," and they look clean in the eyes of people" says Latham. "Maurice Strong has talked about militaries coming to Upeace for training. We are concerned that the SOA or the new ILEA proposal (International Law Enforcement Academy) will come back. It is an ideal location for them to be set up: on the UN campus, they will have diplomatic immunity..."

University for Peace at War

RFPI members lament the lack of dialogue with UPeace. "The University teaches Masters courses in conflict resolution. But, if they can't do it here, it is going to be a lot harder in the Middle East", charges Latham. Right now, nobody is getting in or out of the radio station's building, but the RFPI staff have no intention of leaving. "We are not moving until this whole thing is over."

RFPI appealed this week to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to intervene in RFPI's fight against UPeace. The director says that if nothing can be done locally, they will start legal action against the University in the United States. When our reporter asked the UPeace's lawyer about future actions that the University plans to take against RFPI, Luis Varela replied: "I am not going to tell you, it would be like the US telling before they are about to attack Iraq!"

Whether both conflicts are for ideological or economical reasons, we are hoping for less dramatic consequences than the recent war of terror.

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