Sixty-first General Assembly: Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization)

The Fourth Committee handles special political matters not dealt with by the First Committee, as well as decolonization issues. While affirming resolutions on the freedom and self-determination of States, the adoption of the text entitled "Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations" added timely new consideration to the statute. In 2006, the decolonization efforts of the Committee were also represented by difficult country-specific actions. It considered at great length the political situation in the Middle East and adopted nine resolutions on Israeli/Palestinian issues. "It is the Committee's job to encourage all sides to conform to international humanitarian and human rights norms, and this is where the issue remains to date", said Committee Chairman Madhu Raman Acharya of Nepal. Specific situations in several countries, such as Western Sahara and some small island States, were examined as well, and reports on the environmental aspects of decolonization, drug trafficking control and post-disaster relief were requested.

The University for Peace Comes of Age

Nesrin Hannoun of Jordan, who has worked on several continents, is no stranger to multicultural experiences. She recalled her surprise on the first day she took a course towards a master's degree, which she completed in 2004. "There were 13 students from 12 different countries", she said, commenting on the vast diversity of voices that existed in the group. "It really shapes the discussion." With a total of 137 students from 37 countries enrolled in 2006 alone, Ms. Hannoun's alma mater is quite unlike most universities. Measured by percentiles, the University for Peace (UPEACE), in Costa Rica, is among the most diverse schools in the world.

In October 2006, the Fourth Committee heard and adopted by consensus a resolution acknowledging the University's significant progress and requesting for stronger ties between UPEACE and the United Nations. "With efforts to revitalize and strengthen the University, it is now, more than ever, a recognized and respected international institution for education, training and research on all issues related to peace and conflict", the text states.

UPEACE has undoubtedly undergone many changes since its establishment. Mandated in 1980 by the General Assembly in accordance with a resolution sponsored by Costa Rica -- the first nation to abolish its army -- the University called for promoting global peace and tolerance. In 2000, it began offering short-term courses and expanded a few years ago its scholarship to full-length graduate degree programmes. In an effort to keep the University apolitical and academic, it was given its own charter and financial independence from the United Nations. However, its staff and students are proud to claim the ethos of the United Nations as the lifeblood of the school.

"The University tries to provide the service that supports the goals of the UN" and those goals are a major component of the day-to-day culture of UPEACE, said Ms. Hannoun, who now works as a gender affairs officer with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). "We are part of [the UN] life, and they are part of ours", agreed George Tsaï, Vice Rector of UPEACE. Aside from sharing values and goals, its representatives are active in United Nations bodies in Costa Rica, even occasionally hosting UN meetings and events. Its academic curricula also developed from UN culture, with extensive multicultural consultation and even practical exploratory missions as their basis. "We're anti-ivory tower", he chuckled.

The resolution seems appropriately situated in the Fourth Committee, which handles issues of decolonization and political self-determination. Graduates of UPEACE programmes, which include international law, human rights and gender and peace education, often find careers in colonized, post-conflict or newly independent regions. In international affairs, and in post-conflict areas in particular, working carefully within social and cultural frameworks is often essential. Balász Áron Kovács, a 2005 UPEACE alumnus and currently a programme officer at the Budapest-based Freedom House, said that he learned to focus on local nuances in his UPEACE regional studies courses. In Eastern Europe, slow-changing social attitudes are often an overlooked roadblock to peace and stability, he added. In Hungary, for instance, four national youth groups representing four distinct political parties sometimes clash over aspects of the country's new democracy. Dealing directly with these groups "requires a lot of sensitive negotiating", Mr. Kovács remarked. Ms. Hannoun agreed that the balance between the University's academic theory and practical training has given her a deeper understanding of regional issues, especially when a student brings a professional background to his or her studies. "It makes you reflect on what you've been doing."

In early 2004, UPEACE gained significant international recognition, as it accomplished an unprecedented feat in the peace education community. The Ministry of Higher Education of Nigeria adopted the University's Africa regional programme, making it a mandatory component of all undergraduate programmes in the country. An introduction to peace and conflict in West Africa will also be integrated into the curricula of all 54 universities in Nigeria, and 120 university libraries have received resources and teaching materials. According to the resolution, the UPEACE Africa programme is also moving towards finalizing partnership arrangements with the African Union.

As regional programmes become more of a focus for UPEACE, Mr. Tsai said it would like to continue to push other institutions to develop their own peace studies curricula. In April 2007, UPEACE will begin offering a programme in the Philippines, in conjunction with the renowned Ateneo de Manila University, where students will spend their initial semester, followed by another at the UPEACE Costa Rica campus and back to Manila for the final semester, with the goal of working in conflict areas of the country. Mr. Tsaï said that working with outside institutions -- what he called the "the multiplier effect" -- is the future of UPEACE. "Our alumni can have a significant impact. But to be able to have an impact on millions, well, that is really something."