Project Costa Rica: Costa Rica's Journey to a Peaceful Society

University offers programs to increase, study world peace

by April Stanley

Dina Rodriguez directs the gender and peace
studies department at the Universidad para
la Paz, or the University for Peace.

"Universidad para la Paz," or the University for Peace, was created in 1980 by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 35/55.

The university is dedicated to peace studies with a mission to promote understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence among human beings, to stimulate cooperation and to lessen obstacles to world peace.

UPAZ sits on 310 hectares of a biological reserve in El Rodeo, 30 minutes outside San José. The university was established by a U.N. resolution after President Rodrigo Carazo Odio proposed the creation of the institution.

I had the honor of visiting this beautiful campus and meeting Señora Dina Rodríguez, director of gender and peace studies department, and her two helpful assistants, Victoria Robinson and Ronald Castro.

Initially UPAZ concentrated on Latin America and offered postgraduate programs in natural resources, human rights, and the culture of peace. Years later, when the secretary-general of the United Nations called for a worldwide movement of peace education, UPAZ revitalized the institution and added many more programs.

The university has six departments, which include peace education, natural resources and peace, international law and human rights, gender and peace studies, international peace studies, and human security.

Señora Rodríguez explained that the gender and peace studies department is in the growing phase. Beginning September 2003, this department offered a masters degree in gender and peace building, along with existing short courses, lectures and events. UPAZ also offers regional programs in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Central Asia and Latin America. For example, a goal of the Africa program is to enable and assist various African universities and institutions in providing training courses for conflict prevention, peace building and reconciliation.

In the name of understanding conflicts and learning to build peace, this higher education facility has brought together people from Canada, Mozambique, Norway, Pakistan, the Congo, Japan, the United States, Guatemala, Peru, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and others.

The campus has hosted global events, such as the meeting of the G8 Task Force on Education, and has helped organize and participate in others, such as a meeting of the Asia Pacific Universities and Institutions for Conflict Prevention and Peace Building.

The University Council consists of 17 members who are responsible for governing the institution. The members are appointed by the secretary-general of the United Nations and honorary president of UPAZ, Kofi Annan. This group allows the school to be fully independent and able to pursue programs dedicated to promoting peace.

Another council, the UPAZ Council of Honor, is under the chairmanship of former Costa Rican president, Dr. Oscar Arias. The Council of Honor has brought together 14 Nobel Peace Laureates who provide guidance and moral and intellectual support for the university.

Members of both councils, as well as professors and students, come from all corners of the globe.

The school has liaison offices in New York and Geneva, Switzerland, as well as partnerships with many foreign non-governmental organizations, universities, governments, foundations and institutes. These partnerships bring together knowledge, skills, various perspectives and aspirations in order that resources are used effectively.

Eighty students have been chosen out of hundreds of applicants to begin a new semester at UPAZ in September 2003. While I was working on this project in Costa Rica during June 2003, the university graduated 24 students from various master's programs.

"The borders of the world are closing, except to the rich and the skilled," said Maurice Strong, senior adviser to secretary-general of the United Nations and current rector of UPAZ at the graduation ceremony.

He called upon the students to use their education to help bring peace and stability to this lawless and dangerous world.