Saturday, August 25, 2007

Open Letter from NGOs to UPEACE Council, on the UPEACE Rector's Involvements in International Human Rights Violations

Below is the text of an open letter sent by representatives of international human rights non-governmental organizations to the Chair of the UPEACE Council, UPEACE Chancellor and the then Acting Rector of UPEACE; dated August 06, 2007. This letter provides information on the past and present involvements/links of the newly appointed UPEACE Rector, Mr. John Maresca, with private establishments/organizations with a known history of international human rights violations.

Open Letter from NGOs to UPEACE Council Chair, Chancellor and Ex-Acting Rector.

Mr. Julio María Sanguinetti
Chair of the Council

Hon. Ruth Dreifuss
Chancellor

Mr. Georges Tsaï
Acting Rector

University for Peace
Apdo. 138-6100
Ciudad Colon
Costa Rica

VIA FACSIMILE AND ELECTRONIC MAIL

August 6, 2007

Dear President Sanguinetti, Chancellor Dreifuss, Mr. Tsaï and members of the Council,

EarthRights International, the International Labor Rights Forum, and the Environmental Health Fund are writing to express our concern over the appointment of John Maresca, former Vice-President of International Relations of Unocal Corp., as Rector of the University of Peace. Given Mr. Maresca’s experience with oil and gas projects that are highly antithetical to the goals of the University of Peace and its charter, we believe that his appointment as rector would be a serious blow to the University’s integrity and credibility.

During Mr. Maresca’s tenure at Unocal, that company was a partner in the Yadana gas pipeline in southern Burma (Myanmar). As you may know, Burma has been repeatedly condemned by various United Nations bodies, especially the former Human Rights commission and the International Labour Organization, for its widespread human rights abuses, including the epidemic use of forced labor. In 1998, for example, the ILO’s commission of Inquiry on Forced Labour in Myanmar (Burma) found evidence that forced labor was used “for ground clearance work to provide access to survey teams for the Yadana gas pipeline project.” Due to their complicity in forced labor, both Unocal and its partner TOTAL were sued by victims in courts in the United States and France, respectively. After many years of litigation, Unocal settled the lawsuits against it, agreeing to provide compensation to the victims of the Yadana project.

While Unocal was benefiting from forced labor and other abuses in Burma, Mr. Maresca was its chief international lobbyist, appearing before the U.S. Congress and other projects to promote Unocal’s latest ventures. One of his primary tasks was to gain support for efforts to build a massive oil pipeline through Afghanistan, which was at the time ruled by the Taliban regime. Unocal continuing holding talks with the Taliban about the proposed pipeline through at least 2000.

Unocal’s actions in Burma and its attempts in Afghanistan are not consistent with the goals of the University of Peace, whose charter dedicates it to the promotion of “understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.” The former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the present military government in Burma are two of the most extreme examples of intolerance and violence in recent memory.

Nor do Mr. Maresca’s activities following his stint with Unocal show an appreciation for the values that are central to the University of Peace. Mr. Maresca went on to preside over the Business Humanitarian Forum (BHF), an industry group formerly headed by Unocal President John Imle. While the BHF pays lip service to the notion of corporate responsibility, it is funded not only by Unocal but also by Shell (currently being sued for collaborating with the Nigerian military to execute environmentalists), Rio Tinto (facing a lawsuit for assisting in war crimes in Papua New Guinea), Nestle (accused in court of profiting from child slavery in cocoa plantations in Mali), and Pfizer (currently being sued for knowingly testing a toxic drug on children in Nigeria). The BHF has resisted any real form of accountability for human rights violations, and has given these corporations a means to whitewash their reputations.

We do not believe that Mr. Maresca’s association with Unocal, including its ties to the Taliban regime and the Burmese military, or his position with the Business Humanitarian Forum will reflect well upon the University. We urge you to weigh the damage that Mr. Maresca’s appointment could do to the University’s reputation and its commitment to its goals, and to reconsider any proposal for him to join the University.

Sincerely,

Marco Simons
Legal Director
EarthRights International
marco@earthrights.org

Bama Athreya
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Forum
bama.athreya@ilrf.org

Kenny Bruno
Senior Advisor
Environmental Health Fund
kenny@earthlink.net

Cc (via email):

Peter Krupa, Tico Times
Auriana Koutnik, Tico Times
Julio Rodriguez, La Nacion

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