I am pleased to join you this morning at this very important meeting. Allow me to begin by extending, on behalf of the Organization of American States (OAS), our appreciation to the Government of Grenada for hosting this very important meeting. It is always a pleasure to be in the beautiful spice island of the Caribbean, and I am convinced that you would all appreciate the warm hospitality of the Grenadians.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank UNICEF and UNFPA for joining with the OAS in organizing this meeting to inform and create awareness on the issue of social inclusion, as it relates to civil registration.
The OAS Civil Identity Program of the Americas (known by its Spanish acronym PUICA) already has the mandate to strengthen and modernize the civil registries of the region and one of its main goals is to eradicate under-registration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Along with this mission, I hope and appeal to Member States to provide the necessary political commitment to achieve an on-time birth registration of all children in the Caribbean by the year 2015, and preferably at no cost to those who are registering. This should take place through an extensive inclusive process so that no individual or group in society is disenfranchised.
In pursuit of this political commitment, it is important to underscore that the right to civil identity, such as name, nationality, legal standing, family ties, etc. is the precursor to political, economic, social and cultural rights and freedoms. It is my belief therefore, that every citizen in the Member states of the OAS has the right to be socially included so that he or she can freely exercise his or her right to vote and thereby continuously reinforce democratic governance.
Having an identity document serves more than just an electoral purpose. It is a document that can be used in legal matters, banking transactions, school registration, migration and healthcare issues and even taxation, and we should not under estimate the value of the multipurpose usage of a national identity card.
Civil registries are important in planning a country’s development, and that is why I believe it is necessary to modernize civil registry departments. Especially in this age of greater interdependence among countries and enhanced border security, the days of “hand written” birth certificates have been overtaken by new technologies such as biometric data applications and machine readable documents.
Equally, it is important for countries to invest in e-governance, to facilitate access to, and the sharing of information at a national level. For the Caribbean Community as a whole, the harmonization of institutional arrangements in the context of the ongoing integration process is a pre-requisite for the implementation of a problem free movement of people and the deepening of integration.
Therefore, at both national and sub regional levels, CARICOM Member States need to consider ways to harmonize and update legislation. The OAS stands ready to assist member states in this process of harmonization of civil registries and updating legislation, if so requested.
Little did we know that what the OAS started in Haiti in 2005 would become the hallmark of one Organization’s most important technical cooperation programs. Since then, the OAS has been working with the Government and people of Haiti on civil registration. Within a period of 4 months, the OAS civil registry project was able to register some 3.5 million Haitians. Every registered citizen was able to vote with a safe and secure personal ID that each obtained prior to the very important elections of February 2006.
Many significant advances have been accomplished to date in Haiti, the major one being an adult registration rate of 92% (4.5 million Haitians) and the secure storage of the corresponding information. Since the project’s inception, the OAS has been providing technical assistance to consolidate ONI‘s capability of offering permanent services nationwide to ensure that all Haitians are adequately registered and possess a secure identity document. The project is focused on the continuous reduction of under registration among adults and children, the strengthening of infrastructural, technological and human capacities of the Civil Registry and ONI, the construction of an electronic database with all historical and current registry information to allow for the decentralization of services, and the integration process between the civil registry and other state agencies for the provision of vital statistics.
With the continuous support from CIDA, the OAS cooperated with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJPS) in the creation of the National Identification Office (ONI) and the design of plans for the modernization of the civil registry system, with the aim of making universal registration a reality in Haiti.
Like hurricane Ivan of 2004 that laid havoc and ruin to Grenada, Haiti suffered its own natural disaster, the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Strong civil registry and identification systems that were part of the OAS project are now of central importance for the development of Haiti during the reconstruction period. The vital statistics needed to plan and implement much needed social programs in sectors such as health and food provision, as well as to target where to build hospitals, schools, community centers sectors are extracted from the electronic databases of the Civil Registry projects.
I am pleased to note the presence today of the Director General of the National Identification Office of Haiti, Mr. Roland Coville. I want to thank him for the co-operation to date, and for his unwavering commitment to providing every Haitian citizen with an identification document.
As a direct result of the OAS Civil Registry Project in Haiti, the General Assembly adopted the Hemispheric Civil Registry Program in 2006, currently being implemented in several member states, also in the Caribbean and the OECS.
PUICA has more than a decade of experience supporting civil and identity registries and it’s currently working in 15 countries in the region. Some of the work includes
• Providing technical assistance in the modernization of civil registries
• Developing awareness and campaigns to promote the registration of every citizen.
PUICA also has also trained 200 community leaders and more than 15,000 mothers about the importance and benefits of registering new births and 3,000 registration officers. Through this program, the OAS has digitalized more than 20 million birth certificates. All of these accomplishments were made thanks to the development of partnerships with institutions embracing the health, education, civil and public sectors, as well as several other regional initiatives from international donors.
At the beginning of 2010, the OAS started the second stage of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Regional Civil Registry and Identity Project. The beneficiary countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia. The objective of the project is to support efforts within these countries to modernize, build capacity and improve operational efficiency in their Civil Registries.
In addition, in the context of closer integration at the OECS level, the project also seeks to support integration efforts by examining the necessary requirements to develop the technical expertise which will allow the OECS countries to share their Civil Registry information, in accordance with the member governments. Funding for this initiative has been provided by the Governments of Chile, Canada, and the United States of America.
I hope that the work done by the OAS in the region has benefitted CARICOM member states, therefore we continue counting on your support.
This is why the OAS, in partnership with governments, non governmental institutions, international and regional organizations, as well as the private sector, will continue to support the initiatives of the member states and work together with them in order to improve democratic governance, regional sustainability and hemispheric development. These objectives are critical in creating the conditions for peace, prosperity and security for all the people of the Americas.
I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your concrete recommendations following this meeting.