Cencorship on UN territory
November 12th 2003
Radio for Peace Intertional two floor building constructed with donations
"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, who is the director and co-founder of RFPI. Latham showed the maintenance workers who were building the wire fence, a magazine picture of Jews locked behind barbed wire at a Nazi concentration camp and commented: "this is how it starts "
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, Costarrican 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 fifteen 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.
A change in the administration of the UPeace took place in 1999. Maurice Strong, Special Adviser to the United Nations and the World Bank, and chairman of the Earth Council and the Commission on Global Governance, was nominated President of the Council of the UPeace by the General Secretary of the United Nations, Koffi Annan. "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 15 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. According to the RFPI director, the eviction is directly related to 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, especially since those organizations are sending their people to the UPeace."
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 in the world. 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 unleagal lay off of employes, about which I have proofs."
Many people in Costa Rica claim to have problems with the Upeace. Patricia Navarro Molina, costarrican 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 comited by Upeace, especialy since the presidency of Maurice Strong." Among other accusations, she lists "the lay off of a pragnant Nicaraguayen lady on her returning day from maternity," the "humiliation and persecution of staff members who do not speak english", "the huge amount of money given away to unecesary services"... The list is endless.
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 the reason why they decided to evict RFPI.
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, is known for training Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. "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 armed forces in the US and Honduras. Members of the military might be getting their Master's degree specialized in human rights from the UPeace so that "it gives them "green washing effects" and they look "clean" in the eyes of people" says Latham. "Maurice Strong has talked about some militaries coming to the Upeace for training. We are affraid that the SOA will come back. It is an ideal location for them to be set up: on the UN campus, they have diplomatic immunity..."
University for Peace at war
RFPI members lament the lack of dialogue with UPeace. "The University teaches Master's courses in conflict resolution. But if they can't do it here, it is going to be even harder in the Middle East", charged 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," stated Latham. 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.