More than 60 years ago and after a period of civil war, Costa Rica became one of the only countries in the world to abolish its military, turning the desire for peace into a symbol of Costa Rican culture. This decision, taken by former President José Figueres Ferrer, led to fast economic and social development, putting a special focus on health, education, human rights and the environment.
As Costa Rica started to develop a real culture of peace, the administration became very active in promoting peace as a human right. Costa Rica is a symbol of peace in a chaotic world prone to using armed conflict as a solution to problems. Often ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, the nation serves as a real inspiration for what peace within national boundaries can look like.
OURS magazine spoke with President Luis Guillermo Solís, who was elected in 2014. He shared with us the Costa Rican pacifist values and what they mean for the country’s culture and politics. Before becoming the 47th President of Costa Rica, Solís served in the Foreign Ministry (1986-1998) and worked with former Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal on the Central American peace plan. As the Citizen Action Party candidate, President Solís actually never held an elected office and was seen as an outsider during the presidential campaign. For Solís, peace is very natural, and he believes that peaceful resolutions to conflict are essential. Based on our conversation with President Solís, it is clear that peace is critical if we are to sustainably achieve social and economic development and ensure that human rights are accessible to people across the world.
This culture of peace is reflected in Costa Rica’s choice to appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) when resolving regional conflicts. Costa Rica and Nicaragua, for example, have been facing border-related disagreements and tensions for a long period of time. The first disagreement was resolved in 2005 and referred to rights of navigation on the San Juan River at the border and on the Nicaraguan territory. Then, five years later, Costa Rica took its neighbour Nicaragua to the ICJ to solve border conflicts and environmental damage issues. At the same time, Nicaragua is accusing Costa Rica of environmental impact on the country for constructing a road along the San Juan River. The outcome of the five-year dispute is expected this year. Though diplomatic talks were not sufficient to solve the problem, involving the ICJ ensured both countries would be able to solve issues in a peaceful manner rather than through the use of armed forces.
For us in Costa Rica, it is only natural to support the idea that peace should be understood as the result of the well-being of the population and the respect of human rights, and therefore we do not have any difficulty with the concept in itself.
Costa Rica is one of the countries that advocates instating peace as a human right, a concept that has existed since the 1980s. However, within international governing bodies, the concept has not evolved in a tangible way and has shown neither relevance nor utility. Why do you think we have yet to reach a consensus on peace as a human right? What are the challenges?
I think that there is an ongoing dialogue regarding the right to peace as a human right. Reaching a consensus on this important issue is very difficult. There are countries that do not feel comfortable with the idea of constituting peace as a right, but rather as a product of a number of other rights. It is a conceptual idea, but it is also a highly politicised concept. For us in Costa Rica, it is only natural to support the idea that peace should be understood as the result of the well-being of the population and the respect of human rights, and therefore we do not have any difficulty with the concept in itself. The reality is that there are other countries with different points of view regarding the importance of peace. Countries that have a different security structure from Costa Rica do not share this view. So, we understand that this ongoing process needs to be furthered and we will continue to participate in it in the hope that in the future we will be able to constitute a concept that is sufficiently broad to be able to allow an agreement.
Fully adhering to and respecting the concept of human rights contributes to peace. What other principles can bring peace in a country like in Costa Rica? What examples could you give to other countries?
Social and economic development is clearly fundamental. It is very difficult to conceive a peaceful country, even if human rights are appealed to, if economic and social development is not achieved. One of the reasons Costa Rica was able to develop more than any other country in the region has to do with investments in education, the constitution, social security and the abolition of armed forces. So, clearly, respecting human rights does not only entail governmental responsibility for individual freedoms; it also requires the adoption of public policies that support human development. And I would say it is very difficult to imagine peace in a country that does not fulfil the minimum conditions for the well-being of its population. Costa Rica believes in the international rule of law.
In the disagreement with Nicaragua, how do you see the result of international justice?
Costa Rica and Nicaragua decided to take their disagreements to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). For Costa Rica, taking this conflict with Nicaragua to the ICJ is a direct consequence of lacking an army and our belief that even when dealing with those countries with an army (Nicaragua has one), we have to look for peaceful resolutions to these conflicts. We are expecting that the first two trials will be resolved before the end of 2015. Both countries understand the importance of admitting that these resources are fundamental in their relationship.
To conclude, what is your point of view on the role of international law and diplomacy in world conflicts?
I would wish that the world would be able to solve its problems, functioning by the rule of law, international law, but this is not always case. There are conflicts all over the world; there are many conflicts that are being solved in a traditional way through weapons and through war. This is the reality. The United Nations tries to prevent this and then, if it occurs, tries to intervene, so that the impact upon non-combatting population is lessened. But, unfortunately, the world has not been able to put an end to violence and nor will it any time soon. Therefore, the importance of the U.N. is very large — particularly in preventing conflicts that could escalate to the point of destroying not only specific nations but also the whole world if nuclear weapons are eventually used to this end.