Saturday, August 25, 2007

Open Letter From UPEACE Students to the UPEACE Council

Below is the text of an open letter sent by students of the 2007 class at UPEACE to the UPEACE Council. This open letter seeks clarity on the suitability of Mr. John Maresca as UPEACE Rector, given his past history of involvements in international human rights violations, and in international natural resource based politics that may have been a precursor to regional violent conflicts. The letter also raises questions about the closed and non-participative nature of the process used by the UPEACE Council to select a new UPEACE Rector.

Below are also the responses of Mr. William F. Martin, President of the UPEACE Council, and Mr. John Maresca, Rector-Elect of UPEACE, to the Open Letter of Concern from the students.

Open letter of concern to the Council of the University for Peace

July 13, 2007

Members of the Council

The University for Peace

Dear Members,

The undersigned, students of the 2007 class of the University for Peace, are hereby expressing our concerns about the selection of Mr. John J. Maresca as the new Rector of UPEACE.

We would like to clarify that this letter does not reflect a “radical” anti-corporate or anti-United States stance on our part, neither is it meant to discredit Mr. Maresca’s accomplishments in his diplomatic career, nor his views that ethical business practices can contribute to humanitarian causes. Also, our concerns are not expressed with the intent of supporting any particular alternate candidate for the position.

Our concerns are rather directed at Mr. Maresca’s alleged and largely publicized close involvement, throughout his career, with geopolitical and industrial interests that have in the past carried out, and continue presently to undertake, actions that are not in line with the promotion of peace and human rights throughout the world, and particularly in countries in the Global South. His alleged involvement with these interests, as it will be further detailed, may seriously harm UPEACE’s credibility and legitimacy as an "international institution of higher education for peace”, whose mission further calls upon it to “help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations".

We are also concerned about Mr. Maresca’s seeming lack of academic credentials and background in managing an academic institution that would befit the leadership of a higher education institution such as UPEACE in its unique mandate of peace education as “the best tool for achieving this supreme good for humankind”.

Furthermore, we are uneasy about issues of transparency in the selection process, which excluded the participation of adequate faculty and student representation and, according to statements published in Costa Rican media, the justification for the selection was not properly communicated to some members of the UPEACE Council.

Now, we would like to bring to the Council’s attention the specific elements of Mr. Maresca’s background which seem to conflict with UPEACE’s mission:

i. Unocal and geopolitical interests in the Caspian and Middle East.

Mr. Maresca was Vice President of International Relations of Unocal between 1997 and 1999. In February of 1998, he testified before the U.S. Congress about Unocal’s interest in building a Central Asian oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Numerous news reports have denounced the interests of corporations like Enron and Unocal as the alleged principal drivers of U.S. military policy in Afghanistan since the early 1990s.[1]

ii. Unocal and human rights violations in Myanmar (Burma).

Mr. Maresca states in his CV that he created a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program at Unocal, became an industry leader in the field, and that he made the company aware of the importance of maintaining a positive record of responsibility. However, Unocal was sued for its alleged complicity with the Myanmar military for human rights violations, including slave labor, rape, murder and displacement of Burmese villagers, when said military provided security for the construction of the Yadana pipeline in the 1990s. Unocal settled the lawsuit with Burmese villagers in 2004.[2]

Nonetheless, according to the media articles, Unocal’s spokespersons continuously denied that any human rights violations occurred during the construction of the pipeline. The U.S. State Department and Unocal’s own consultants though, it was reported, had acknowledged that the Myanmar military used forced labor. In 2002 Unocal rejected its shareholders’ requests to withdraw from the country, claiming that the project was “a good investment for the company and a good investment for the people of Myanmar.”[3] In spite of Mr. Maresca’s legacy of a leading CSR program, these actions do not seem to reflect the conduct of a corporation that is committed to corporate accountability.

iii. Membership in the BHF and apparent “bluewashing” by businesses that actively oppose corporate accountability.

As an academic institution with a mandate to promote fundamental social values including positive peace, respect for human rights, environmental justice and gender mainstreaming, UPEACE’s credibility and legitimacy in these fields is essential.

For this reason, it is worrisome that when in 1999 Mr. Maresca first established the Business Humanitarian Forum (BHF), many international human rights and social justice organizations protested against the participation of UN institutions like the UNHCR and UNICEF in the Forum, because they believed their involvement would allow corporations violating or overtly opposing human rights standards to earn a positive image while maintaining their harmful practices (a practice they dubbed ‘bluewashing’). Although those protests were dismissed as “radical” or “isolationist”, today there are indications that the concerns of human rights organizations may have been real. A quick internet search can reveal much about the human rights track record of many BHF member companies[4].

Another profound cause for concern are news reports that several members of the BHF advisory board have actively campaigned against international standards and mechanisms that can hold business accountable for human rights issues, allegedly claiming that the existence of institutions like the BHF and the Global Compact make those standards unnecessary. A briefing published in 2004 by the UN Observer indicates that the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the US Council for International Business (USCIB) were among the most vocal opponents against the Norms for Business and Human Rights unanimously proposed by a Sub-commission of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.[5] Mr. Robin Aram, then Vice President of Shell, is singled out in the briefing as the person leading these efforts. Today, three positions in the BHF Board are held by Mr. Aram and by former heads of the ICC, and the USCIB. The stance of ICC, USCIB and Mr. Aram was strongly criticized by advocates of business accountability, including Sir Geoffrey Chandler, Founding Chair of Amnesty International’s UK Business Group, who called it "an extraordinary attack on international human rights standards".[6]

Mr. Thomas Niles, who former president of the USCIB and BHF Boardmember, is also named in a Toronto Star article as a leading opponent of the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA), the only U.S. legislation that can hold U.S. companies accountable for their complicity in human rights violations in other countries.[7] Coincidentally, it was under ATCA litigation that Unocal settled to compensate Burmese victims of human rights violations allegedly in relation to the construction of the Yadana pipeline. At the moment, suit is also being brought against Shell, under this legislation for human rights violations in Nigeria.

In view of all the circumstances described above, we feel that UPEACE’s international credibility as the only UN-affiliated institution authorized to issue graduate degrees in Peace and Human Rights may be seriously compromised if Mr. Maresca were to become the head of this institution.

We respect the importance of diversity in education, and recognize that voluntary business approaches are one mechanism worth exploring in the promotion of human rights. However, UPEACE is responsible for maintaining its academic independence and this is unlikely if its foremost academic authority has such strong links to corporate and political interests that seemingly oppose international human rights standards.

For this reason, we ask that the Council to reconsider this matter, in the light of these concerns, and revoke the appointment of Mr. Maresca, in order to undertake the search for a more suitable candidate, who could lead UPEACE to the fulfillment of its mission with the highest levels of academic excellence and international credibility, as well as meet its financial needs.

We also ask that additional measures be undertaken to strengthen the transparency of the selection process, including adequate student and faculty representation, and the establishment of clear standards for the position. These standards should include suitable academic credentials and a strong alignment with the principles of the UN Charter, such as a proven commitment to justice and human rights standards.

We feel fortunate for having had the chance to study at UPEACE, and recognize that with this opportunity comes a profound duty to promote the values and mission of the University. Now, we are speaking up out of care for UPEACE’s mission and concern for the University’s continued legitimacy. We hope that the Council will reconsider its decision in view of these serious concerns and revoke Mr. Maresca’s appointment, in order to select a candidate who can best serve the University’s needs and its mandate.

In peace,

Signatories (to the full contents of the letter)

Sergio Guillen, Francesca Dall’Acqua, Tanya Roberts-Davies, Jennifer Scharf , Shreya Jani, Karen Huggins, Anat Nir, Cecilia Sbernini, Brigit Glustein, Kimberly Rafuse, Loizos Loukadis, Joakim Daun, Candice O’Grady, Yusuf Alam, Jennifer Ribachonek, Julian Perez, Lauren Herzer, Taina Christiansen, Laila Said, Nora Mahmoud, Katherine Braggs, Joshua Cerretti, Marcel Fomotar, Bassey Archibong, Viviana Mourra, Sean Khalepari, Maryam d’Hellencourt

Signatories (with comments/reservations)

Signature: Mary E. Lind

Comments/Reservations: I endorse the Open Letter of Concern to the UPEACE Council and only take exception to one element: the appeal for the revoking of the appointment of Mr. Maresca. While I share all of the concerns detailed in the letter, I want to hear the perspectives of council members who made the appointment and reflect further on the complex set of interests and issues before standing behind such a request. In every other way I support and endorse the letter of concern.

Signature: Katharina Felgenhauer

Comments/Reservations: Acknowledging that UPEACE might possibly benefit from Mr. Maresca's longstanding experience, I refrain from asking the council to rescind his appointment immediately. Instead, I would like to urge the council to thoroughly clarify how the concerns addressed in this letter will be mitigated, given the representative and highly symbolic role Mr. Maresca would assume as rector of our university. I strongly request the council to decisively increase the level of transparency of their reasoning and decision-making processes.

Signature: Catalina Vaughan

Comments/Reservations: I fully endorse the letter, and before asking the Council to revoke a decision, I do want to hear the process and the real reasons or electing this candidate. If this is not expressed with weight, I also ask the revoking to occur.

Signature: Menadro Abanes

Comments/Reservations: I endorse the letter, however I am a bit uneasy about the defensive stance of the letter as “ ‘radical’ anti-corporate or anit-United States” I feel that I can take a stand without adopting any "ideological" position on this matter by being an advocate of transparency and accountability of the processes taken and actions done. Second, I am more agreeable to the idea that the Council (selection) will reconsider its appointment. Or it can point out their reasons and rationale of having Mr. Maresca as the best person among the candidates to lead UPEACE.

CC: UPEACE Council Chair-Elect Julio Ma. Sanguinetti

UPEACE Rector-Elect John J. Maresca

UPEACE President Emeritus Rodrigo A. Carazo



Response of Mr. John Maresca, Rector-Elect, to the above Open Letter of Concern


Geneva, 23 July 2007

Dear Signatories of the ‘Open Letter’ dated July 13, 2007,

I received your ‘open letter’ with some surprise. Most of the issues it cites have not been raised with me previously, in spite of the long discussion I had with the faculty, and my availability for meetings at the campus in June. It might have been useful to ask me about these matters before writing your letter.

I would nonetheless be happy to discuss the issues you have raised with you or your representative when I am back at the campus in August. If you wish to have such a discussion, please contact my Assistant to arrange an appointment.


John Maresca



Response of Mr. William F. Martin, President of the UPEACE Council, to the above Open Letter of Concern


31 July 2007


Dear Signatories of the Open Letter of Concern, of 13 July,

I have read your 13 July 2007 letter carefully, and while I take the points you have raised seriously, I believe that your concerns about Mr. Maresca’s election are unfounded. I know that you were all very busy with the final stages of the academic year, including the commencement ceremony, but I wish your concerns would have been mentioned at the time of the Council’s meeting at the campus, when student and faculty representatives where invited to speak to the Council, and when the Council’s members were mingling often and informally with members of the faculty and the student body.

I understand that the new Rector of the University has offered to meet with you or your representatives to discuss the issues you have raised with respect to his background. I think that is a useful and very forthcoming position, and I hope you will meet with him. I think you will find that he is open, friendly and understanding of your concerns.

On the process used for the election of the new Rector, I agree that there is room for improving it. As a matter of fact, the Council adopted at its recent Sixteenth Session a resolution stating that the University will develop a procedure for electing the Rector to be submitted for approval at the next session. However, it is important to stress that Mr. Maresca’s election was in keeping with all existing procedures established by the Rules and Procedures of the Council of the University. Furthermore, the Executive Committee, which had been mandated by the Council to conduct the process, adopted a very rigorous selection process. Nominations and expressions of interest were sought from around the world on the basis of a vacancy announcement that identified four key selection criteria: academic credentials, ability to raise funds, management abilities, and commitment to the goals of the United Nations and the University for Peace; there was a full discussion in the selection committee of each nominee; a short list of the best qualified candidates was agreed by consensus; the short-listed candidates were invited to meet with the selection committee for interviews; there was a full and open discussion in the selection committee of the qualifications of each of the candidates; and this discussion resulted in a unanimous opinion of the selection committee in favor of the candidate who, in the opinion of the Committee, in addition to his worldwide experience, knowledge and professionalism, exceeded all four key criteria referred to above. I believe we have found a dynamic and capable leader for the University who is able to address UPEACE's current priorities and challenges. I hope that, after reflection, you will agree.

Yours sincerely,

William F. Martin,
President of the Council

Students Signatories of the Open Letter of Concern, of 13 July

University for Peace San José, Costa Rica

cc: President Rodrigo Carazo, Rector-elect John J. Maresca

1 comment:

Karen said...

The Open Letter dated July 13 was to the UPeace Council - NOT to Mr. John Maresca. Just thought I'd clear that up!