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48 Winter 2016
■ As the U.N. convened its 70th General Assembly, Brain World talked wit...
50 Winter 2016
Brain World: Can you tell us
about the history of UPEACE?
Francisco Rojas-Aravena: U...
of the globe. In terms of extreme
poverty, there has been important
progress. In the case of Lat...
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Rector Francisco Rojas Aravena


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Brain World Magazine asked Rector Francisco Rojas, about our world and why UPEACE’s work is significant.

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Rector Francisco Rojas Aravena

  1. 1. 48 Winter 2016 Personality ■ As the U.N. convened its 70th General Assembly, Brain World talked with Dr. Francisco Rojas-Aravena, the current rector of the University for Peace (UPEACE). We asked him about our world and why UPEACE’s work is significant, given the direction of the U.N. While answering our questions, Rector Rojas-Aravena focused on the importance of sustainable growth and reminded us how we all, as humans, strive for a common goal: A better life. In 2013, Rector Rojas-Aravena was appointed as the next leader of UPEACE — a U.N.-mandated educational institution founded in 1980. Rojas-Aravena holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Utrecht, and a M.Sc. in political science from FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences). But his success cannot be constrained to his academic work. Rector Rojas-Aravena has been actively collaborating with world leaders from various countries to find new ways to resolve conflicts. He is committed to sharing his knowledge with the world and making a difference. A Q&A WITH RECTOR FRANCISCO ROJAS-ARAVENA by Samantha Macia and Deniz Cam CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE peaceeducating leaders
  2. 2. 50 Winter 2016 Brain World: Can you tell us about the history of UPEACE? Francisco Rojas-Aravena: UP- EACE is the result of an initiative presented to the U.N. in 1980 by Rodrigo Carazo, the president of Costa Rica at the time. The inter- national context was filled with regional wars including the civil wars in Central America. Cara- zo’s idea to establish UPEACE was to send a message to the world that a higher-education institution for peace was needed in order to achieve peace. His belief in democracy re-prioritized Costa Rican values and made it a human rights-oriented state, an unarmed country and one of the oldest democracies of the region. Costa Rica was also the country that invited different international organizations to visit, and thus became an in- ternational cradle for human rights and home to different international organizations. The proposition for UPEACE moved very quickly within the U.N. and was approved by resolution 35- 55 on December 5, 1980. Thus, the core structure of the univer- sity was created: A postgraduate university to educate and train people on conflict resolution, to teach them the ability to trans- form conflict and develop peace through education. BW: What would you say the goal of the university is? FRA: Basically, the university was established with a clear determina- tion to become an international institution of higher education for peace and to promote a spirit of understanding, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence. The univer- sity fosters cooperation among people and helps lessen obstacles and threats to world peace by also complying with the aspirations of the U.N. charter. By perceiving education as the main tool for peace, the university started with a variety of courses. The first course was in international relations and international cooperation. By the end of the ’90s, the U.N. decided to change the curriculum to focus more on the initial aim of the uni- versity. As a result, all the master’s degrees started being taught in English, and the university broad- ened the amount of applicants, receiving students from different parts of the world. BW: Would you say that the university has been successful? FRA: Looking back on these 35 years, it is evident that the university has been able to cre- ate new leaders in this area with more than 1,650 alumni who work in more than 101 countries, where they are committed to de- veloping our world. One of our most successful alums happens to be the first lady of Costa Rica, who studied at UPEACE during the ’90s, and who, today, thanks in large part to her postgradu- ate studies, works closely with local and regional governments on matters of cooperation and integration as part of her political agenda. Our alumni generally work with the U.N., interna- tional organizations, NGOs, gov- ernments, the private sector, and academia. BW: The academic spectrum of the university is clearly very impressive. Could you elaborate more on the curriculum? FRA: We have one compre- hensive area of study on Peace and Conflict, which includes four master’s degrees: Interna- tional Peace Studies; Gender and Peacebuilding; Media, Peace and Conflict Studies; and Peace Education. We also have master’s degrees in International Law with two specializations: one in Human Rights and the other in the Settlement of Disputes. Environmental Studies is also one of the broader areas, with four specializations related to Environmental Security, Natural Resources Management, Climate Change Policy, and Sustainable Food Systems. We also give stu- dents the opportunity to focus on responsible management for sustainable development. BW: Where do you think the U.N. is headed? FRA: The U.N. has recently been making relevant decisions for conflict resolution. This sub- ject is one of the most important is- sues today, as the conflicts world- wide become more complex. This is an especially crucial year because of U.N.’s 70th anniver- sary. The U.N. will make decisive choices in four main areas, and peacekeeping is one of the most important. The secretary-general created a special group to rede- sign and rethink peace and the role of peacekeeping military forces, since political will is more important than military force to resolve conflicts. The people in the field need to be thinking of those in need and view their protection as the main objective. The second and probably most important area is relat- ed to sustainable development and growth for the Post-2015 and Development Agenda 2030 programs. We must eliminate extreme poverty all around the world. We also cannot move forward without addressing the need for water in various parts Rojas-Aravena cont’d WE MUST ELIMINATE EXTREME POVERTY ALL AROUND THE WORLD. WITH THE DIGITAL COMMUNI- CATION REV- OLUTION, MOST PEO- PLE HAVE GAINED THE OPPORTU- NITY TO COMMUNI- CATE AND PUT FORTH THEIR OWN IDEAS.
  3. 3. 52 of the globe. In terms of extreme poverty, there has been important progress. In the case of Latin America, more than 50 million people used to live in poverty, and today, a significant portion of them represent a new middle class. A similar progression oc- curred in China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, too. But much remains undone. The third area, which is the most significant threat to the hu- man race, is climate change. At the end of 2015, a conference on climate change will convene in Paris. If countries cannot achieve a specific plan to battle against climate change, we will very like- ly have to confront an inexplica- ble humanitarian disaster. Some scientists argue that although the world population is currently at 8 billion people, we could lose at least half of that population if the average temperature goes up by 2 degrees Celsius. The fourth and final area of focus for the U.N. during its 70th anniversary is that of hu- man rights and the strengthening of the Human Rights Council. Presently, each country presents a report to the council, which gives its recommendations, but this is not enough. Today’s challenge is to find ways to improve human rights protection through the U.N. That way, by preventing the violation of human rights in certain parts of the world, we will not have to deal with worse crises in the future. Historically, coun- tries struggling with civil wars or complex conflicts almost always present warning signs about a de- cade before the conflict, among them polarization and the full violation of human rights. BW: What can people do as individuals to support these changes? FRA: In our globalized world, transnational dialogues have be- come more common and pos- sible. With the digital commu- nication revolution, most people have gained the opportunity to communicate and put forth their own ideas. This revolution could be used in very constructive and productive ways: for building peace, for focusing on human rights, and for accomplishing the dream of happiness for all. How- ever, this possibility could also be abused and used for destruction. For that reason, taking action is crucial, and each individual’s goal should be to create institutions for more permanent actions while using their own ideas and incor- porating those of others. BW: If we are to see peace as the absence of tension or stress, are there any meditative courses that focus on the brain and stress resolution? FRA: Well, I think that the uni- versity has a variety of courses that focus on inner peace from different perspectives. We see the role of the institution as trans- forming conflict and creating the space to solve problems in a nonviolent way through educa- tion. But although the reduction of stress is important, I think that it’s necessary to have some level of adrenaline/tension in order to undertake action. Otherwise, you might feel too comfortable and less inclined to act. Peace requires courage and a lot of input, which can also lead to great frustration, because some- times you make progress and realize that there is still a long way ahead. It is important not to forget that this is a permanent process and to ensure that when you look back, you have taken all the necessary steps to achieve the final goal. BW: Would you say that you have a role model who shaped your path? FRA: I think various people in- fluenced me in different ways. We are currently using Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “Peace begins with a smile,” around the campus, in hopes that students will remember that change be- gins with each of us, and so I will say that great leaders like her are my first inspiration. If you smile, this causes a reaction in others to smile back. This is not to say that if you smile in the face of starvation and disaster, it will have any impact. Neverthe- less, when it comes to mastering negotiation, smiling is a neces- sary tool. Professor Roger Fisher (of Harvard University) taught me how to negotiate during my studies through the Harvard Ne- gotiation Project. I also learned so much from my academic stud- ies in Latin America and Europe (the Netherlands). I was always lucky, because I always had the opportunity to meet influential people who inspired me, includ- ing several Latin American presi- dents from different countries. In the case of Costa Rica, president Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982), president Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986), Nobel Prize-win- ner president Oscar Arias (1986- 1990 and 2006-2010), president Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014), and current president Luis Guill- ermo Solis (2014-2018). More important than the knowledge they gave me is the friendship they provided me with, which helped shape my perception of the world. I get to work with presidents and show them my work and I feel that through these Rojas-Aravena cont’d political dialogues you always learn a lot, because presidents are quite bright people. Many want to believe that most presidents are not smart, that they managed to become heads of states by luck alone, but I have found this to be quite untrue. The presidents I’ve met are visionaries, persistent and perceptive and thus able to create opportunities to present their citizens with a better life. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work at this uni- versity, because I see it as a way to say “Thank you” to all these peo- ple, to Costa Rica, to president Carazo, to president Monge, to president Arias, to president Chinchilla, and to president So- lis. Thanks to them, my ideas can now be disseminated within the academic world and truly make a difference. I am very pleased to contribute to the development and the relaunch of UPEACE, a leading institution that has been educating leaders for peace for the last 35 years. SubscribetoBrainWorld Magazine! THE SCIENCE * THE DISCOVERIES THE REVELATIONS * THE INSIGHTS * THE LESSONS THE CONTROVERSIES * THE RESEARCH THE WISDOM * THE MYSTERIES OF THE HUMAN BRAIN  $14.95 for a one-year subscription, 4 issues (Save $15 off cover price) • Please go to • Or complete and return this card along with check or M.O. for $14.95 (payable to Brain World Magazine) to: Brain World Magazine, 866 UN Plaza, Room 479, New York NY 10017 Subscriptions begin with next issue published after receipt of payment. Name Email* Phone Address City State Zip Additional postage for Canada: $10/year. Goto SUBSCRIBE TO BRAIN WORLD TODAY!