OAS Commemorates Democratic Charter

Conference Examines Democratic Charter

NEW: “Inter-American Democratic Charter: Documents and Interpretations”

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Strengthening the Democratic Commitment (Spanish version)

The Inter-American Democratic Charter sets out a simple, clear declaration: “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” In 28 articles, this landmark document—adopted on September 11, 2001—defines the elements of democracy and specifies how it should be defended when it is under threat. It gives the governments of the hemisphere a new compass to guide their collective action when democracy faces challenges.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter is significant because it:

The Inter-American Democratic Charter was formally applied for the first time in April of this year in Venezuela, when the OAS condemned the "alteration of the constitutional order" that temporarily forced President Hugo Chávez out of office. In August, the Permanent Council reiterated the Organization's readiness "to provide support and help as required by the Government of Venezuela to further the process of dialogue and consolidate its democratic process." Toward that end, a joint mission of the OAS, the United Nations Development Programme and the Carter Center visited Venezuela from September 9 to 13, responding to an invitation from the government and the opposition groups in Coordinadora Democrática.

The Democratic Charter is also helping to guide the hemisphere's actions in Haiti, where the OAS has undertaken a series of efforts to help end the political impasse and strengthen democracy. On September 4, the Permanent Council adopted a resolution establishing a new framework of support designed to enable all democratic forces in Haiti to express themselves and to participate in the political process.

Development of the Democratic Charter

The initial proposal for an Inter-American Democratic Charter came from the government of Peru, shortly before the April 2001 Summit of the Americas. In their Declaration of Quebec City, the presidents and prime ministers affirmed that the shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law is “an essential condition” for participation in the Summit process. They underscored the need to enhance the hemisphere’s ability to respond when democracy is threatened, and instructed their foreign affairs ministers to prepare a Democratic Charter “to reinforce OAS instruments for the active defense of representative democracy.”

Following the Summit, OAS representatives developed a working document for consideration by the General Assembly, which held its annual regular session June 3-5 in San Jose, Costa Rica. The General Assembly approved a draft, directing the Permanent Council to strengthen and expand it by September. A working group of the Permanent Council, led by Ambassador Humberto de la Calle of Colombia, negotiated the final text, taking into account written opinions submitted by governments as well as by citizens from around the Americas. The OAS invited civil society to contribute ideas and opinions, and set up a special Web site for this purpose.

The Permanent Council presented a final draft to a special session of the OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru. On September 11, the same day terrorists launched attacks in the United States, the 34 democratic countries of the Americas adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Background: Defending Democracy

The Inter-American Democratic Charter represents the most recent development in the Organization of American States' longstanding democratic commitment. The OAS Charter, adopted in 1948, calls on member states to “promote and consolidate representative democracy.” Over the years, the OAS has taken an active role in defending democracy in member countries, while respecting the principle of nonintervention enshrined in its founding charter. In 1991, it adopted Resolution 1080, which provides for an emergency meeting of the hemisphere’s foreign ministers to decide on specific collective action when democracy is interrupted. Resolution 1080 has been a key factor in helping to manage crises in the hemisphere. It has been invoked on four occasions: Haiti (1991), Peru (1992), Guatemala (1993) and Paraguay (1996).

The Protocol of Washington has given the OAS another tool to use in defense of democracy. Under the terms of the Protocol, which amended the OAS Charter, the Organization has the right to suspend a member state whose democratically elected government has been overthrown by force. The Protocol of Washington took effect in September 1997, following ratification by two-thirds of its signatories.

The OAS has also played a key role in promoting democracy and in helping to strengthen democratic institutions and practices in the countries of the Americas, through its Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), created in 1990.

Inter American Democratic Charter
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