Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


May 6, 2010 - Washington, DC

This report corresponds to the mandate of the resolution of the General Assembly of June 4 and refers to the promotion and strengthening of democracy, as the resolution is so entitled. However, I note that it also refers to the report to the Permanent Council presented by the Secretary General in all cases where action was required by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which constitutes an annual account of the mandate.

I have limited myself mainly to the Inter-American Democratic Charter in actions required to be performed in Member Countries, although I have extended the report to include missions carried out in the framework of the OAS Charter. I refer specifically to issues related to the situation between Ecuador and Colombia and the matters pertaining to Belize and Guatemala, which do not refer to the Inter-American Democratic Charter but rather the mandate of the OAS Charter.

I want to leave indicating that the report serves to verify and keep alive the debate and reflection about many of the things I raised in the Permanent Council in March 2007, when I noted that the Inter-American Democratic Charter is the most comprehensive Inter-American instrument that has been enacted to date that promotes democratic practices in the States of the continent and that pursues activities for cooperation as may be necessary where there is a clear lack of performance. What I mean to say is in line with what was said minutes ago by Ambassador Graeme Clark of Canada, in the sense that the Democratic Charter is much more than just actions to be taken in the event of a breakdown of democracy, because it includes various central issues of which, incidentally, election observation is essential.

Therefore, the report states, not only the occasions in which the Secretary General or the Council, or both, or at the request of the country, decided to send a mission, but it also contains a number of other issues relating to activities of cooperation.

I start by saying that, in my opinion, many of the things that have happened last year raise the need to carry out or at least talk about some of the major limitations of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. One of them is the lack of specification in the criteria for defining when and to what extent have the democratic institutions of a country been altered. That is, when there is not a crisis, of a breakdown, but there are situations to face of disruption of the democratic order or risks of a breakdown. We do not have a definition of democracy, and in the case of the political agenda to include human rights issues, freedom of expression, corruption, good governance, respect for the rule of law, etc.

Moreover, the issue of the breakdown of constitutional order is still pending between us. What really are the unconstitutional alterations or interruption of democratic order? I have set an example many times, which I would like repeat here: a few months ago on an island in the Caribbean that is not a Member of the Organization of American States because it is a dependency of another country, there was a phenomenon of massive corruption of public institutions obligating the country of which this island depends, to act. That is a serious alteration of constitutional order, a massive violation of human rights, a serious violation of the constitutional order, and I think these issues have never been properly defined; this is a point that is pending.

Second, there is an obvious tension between the principle of nonintervention and the ability to protect democracy through collective mechanisms. This is in texts: the OAS Charter provides that no State can intervene, directly or indirectly, in the domestic or external affairs of any other; nevertheless, we often speak of the need for mechanisms, not only to act when there is a disturbance or a serious disruption of democracy, but we also speak of sanctions such as suspension, which is a very direct form of intervention. We must, in short, reconcile two of our basic fundamental documents produced at different times. We recall that even before World War II, international law primarily governed the relationship between States and there were virtually no rules to which countries were forced to assess what was happening within their State. Subsequently, we have committed ourselves to many things: we commit ourselves, for example, to respect human rights in all our countries; to carry out a series of commercial activities in particular ways within our countries, and this naturally creates a permanent tension with the principle of nonintervention that is enshrined in our Democratic Charter and the OAS Charter.

Third. There is also a problem of access, and I raise this issue in order to be as direct as possible. A couple of days ago, I was in Honduras during the inauguration of the Truth Commission and met with various persons. I considered it appropriate to meet with the so-called Resistance Movement, which rejects this whole process because it believes that the government is not legitimate and that we should do something. In one paragraph they stated: “for this reason, we ask you, Mr. Secretary General, to implement the Inter-American Democratic Charter as this government is not legitimate,” among other things. This struck me because many times these movements—if we characterize them under the traditional concepts—are left-wing movements. On the other hand, they also point the finger at me and say, “Why do you not apply the Democratic Charter to this or that?”. And the truth is that the application of the Charter, which is important to remember, must come about with permission of the Member State or at the request of the Member State concerned or, if a breakdown occurs, at the request of another State other than the Member State concerned. But, the decision to turn to the Democratic Charter as a preventive mechanism and immediately prior to a crisis is strictly in the hands of the government of the country in which this crisis is happening, and that too is an issue that is important to remember. We are talking about government in the narrow sense of the meaning. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines government as all three branches of government, but in this case we understand it to be the Executive Branch. Only the Executive Branch of a country can invoke the Democratic Charter to counter a threat or to prevent a breakdown, and that is also important to consider.

Fourth. I talked a lot in the 2007 report on issues of gradualness. We really do not have processes and some States regarding the issue of Honduras expressed this. When the breakdown occurs, the Charter is very explicit about the obligation to suspend, not only because the General Assembly could suspend, but also because it shows that a country that is not democratic, in not having a democratic government, is unable to participate in the activities of the Organization of American States. Therefore, here there is not, as there is with other institutions, a preliminary period of conversation, evaluation, discussion, etc., and we do not have a natural process by which to evaluate the situation in order to decide what is appropriate for each country. The only norm that allows the Organization to continue to act is that, as in the case of Honduras, the General Secretariat was empowered by the General Assembly to take any diplomatic action deemed necessary for the restoration of democracy.

It is these four topics: the lack of specification of the criteria, the tension between the principle of nonintervention and protection of democracy, problems with access, and the issue of gradualness, which are still pending. And I think the status report for the year that ended several months ago demonstrates this.

The activities of the General Secretariat carried out through their secretariats, designed to meet the initial purpose of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Charter of the OAS, relate primarily to the following areas that are in the report:

First, to prevent the possible causes of problems that may impede the development of democracy. Second, and this alludes to the OAS Charter, to ensure peaceful settlement of disputes and resolve the political problems that may arise, within Article XXV of Chapter V and Article X of Chapter XVI of the Charter of the OAS, which also refers to Articles XVIII, XIX, XX and XXI of Chapter IV of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Third, to advise or assist Member States in strengthening and developing their electoral institutions and processes, this is Chapter V of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Fourth, to strengthen the Inter-American System of Human Rights, Article VIII of Chapter II of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Promote dialogue, cooperation for integral development to combat poverty, Article XIV of Title III of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. To promote good governance, good governance and democratic values, Chapter VI, Article XXVII of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. To promote the elimination of all forms of discrimination, especially in regards to discrimination based on ethnic-racial gender, Article IX, Chapter II of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And regarding the issue of participation of women, Article XXVIII of Chapter VI of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Regarding the first issue, the actions of the OAS have been aimed at strengthening and sustaining the democratic Member States, either through dialogue, through diplomatic means, good practices, or the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict. Our mission in Bolivia carried out its work in order to build channels of communication between the parties so as to resolve political differences through institutional means. In Paraguay, today, the OAS General Secretariat seeks to highlight the importance of institutionalism and being available for the authorities to support political dialogue in this nation. In Guatemala, the application of the Democratic Charter prevented—as noted here by President Alvaro Colom—a democratic breakdown and calmed the political situation in the country. President Colom noted how the efforts carried out by the General Secretariat following the decision of the Permanent Council, “were crucial to prevent further crisis and stop the unwarranted but understandable political harassment that came under my government.”

In the case of Honduras, I remain convinced that if the government had asked the OAS to take action in a timely manner, we would have had a much better chance of managing the conflict before the State coup. In the above cases: Bolivia, Guatemala, and Paraguay, the respective governments requested or applied for assistance. When the government of Honduras asked for assistance, it was set for the morning of Friday June 26, but the State coup occurred a day before the OAS mission arrived in the country.

One of the essential purposes of the OAS Charter is to ensure peaceful settlement of disputes. The report detailed the actions being undertaken by the Mission of Good Offices for Colombia and Ecuador, which we believe have contributed to the coming together of the two countries, aimed at normalizing their relations. The purpose and outcome has been the same for the efforts to facilitate negotiations that took place between the governments of Belize and Guatemala to peacefully resolve the territorial dispute, which led to the recommendation of the General Secretariat to appeal to the International Court of Justice; this suggestion was welcomed by governments, and now, they await the final decision of the legislative and respective referendums.

In regard to the second point, under Chapter V of the Charter, the General Secretariat has intensified and refined its election observation activities to cover all of Latin America and the Caribbean and to become a guarantee of excellence of electoral processes that have taken place in the region. Just this morning, I inaugurated a meeting of election officials from 25 countries in the region, where there will be discussions not only of the quality but also of the horizontal cooperation mechanisms that can be provided to continue improving the election issue in countries

From May 2005 until February 2010, there were 47 elections and referendums in various countries of the hemisphere; pending before us is the Mission to Bolivia and this weekend electoral missions to Suriname and the Dominican Republic will be carried out. The electoral missions formulate recommendations on how to improve the electoral process, and the General Secretariat frequently cooperates with the country's electoral authorities on their implementation, in cooperation with international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. We also provide training and technical support to electoral institutions to strengthen civil registration, an essential condition for the practice of voting. We have developed the program for the universalization of civil identity in the Americas that is promoting the registration of persons in various countries in the Americas. In the framework of this program, a substantial contribution to the restoration of democracy in Haiti has been made, through the establishment of a permanent electoral register that recorded more than three million five hundred thousand people, and now has reached a much higher figure. From that voter registry, we are developing a national civil registry.

With respect to Article VIII, the General Secretariat has dedicated itself to strengthening the independence and autonomy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to promoting a substantial increase in its activities despite resource constraints that are always mentioned. We managed to increase its staff, to obtain resources for conducting regular meetings and field visits, and also at some point, to get extra resources to push forward the cases that are pending in folders due to the lack of personnel to serve review them. Since mid-2005 until earlier this year, the IACHR conducted 45 visits to 16 Member States and has published numerous reports on specific countries or on the serious human rights concerns. Its specialized rapporteurs have developed an intense level of activities on the most pressing issues in the region, ranging from the protection of the rights of afro-descendants and indigenous peoples to concern about key aspects of the exercise of democracy, such as access to justice or freedom of expression.

With regard to Article XIV of Title III of the Charter, the General Secretariat’s attention has focused on the development of human capacities, in the institutional strengthening and implementation of effective public policies. In this framework, we have developed an Inter-American Social Protection Network to facilitate the exchange of best practices in the field of social protection; we began work on this network in September of last year during the UN General Assembly and with the presence of the Secretary of State of the United States and other authorities; this network aims to mobilize resources to strengthen the agencies and institutions of the region through trainings, internships, and technical assistance.

The Alliance for Sustainable Energy in the Americas, which held a meeting here a few weeks ago, provides access to experts on energy and the interaction between the public and private sector; it also provides technical and financial assistance to Member States seeking alternative energy sources. And in the field of water management, we are implementing programs to promote integrated management of large rivers at the borders of the Americas.

In regard to education, the scholarship and training program of the OAS has been completely revised and restructured, and today it operates efficiently and transparently. At the same time, in order to contribute to the development of entrepreneurship, leadership, and innovation among young people, work is being done through a foundation linked to the OAS, the Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs of the Americas (YABT), with the most vulnerable population sectors to include young migrants, indigenous people, women, and residents of rural communities.

As for the program for institutional strengthening, we created it to support the strengthening of legislative bodies; and in support of the ministerial meetings of justice, we have launched a secure mail network that allows for cooperation between all Member States in criminal assistance and cases of extradition. The Inter-American Program for Judicial Facilitators, already established in three countries, has enabled the rural population to have access to prompt and effective resolution of conflicts. The General Secretariat has also sought to ensure the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which has consolidated its monitoring mechanism, the MESICIC.

In recent years, we have organized and served as technical secretariat for meetings of Ministers of Labor, Education, Culture, Public Security, Justice, Science and Technology, Sustainable Development, and Social Development, providing facilitation and technical support to identify priorities and share experiences between the countries of the region and the General Secretariat. And, in the same arena, between Member States, the Secretariat has implemented a large number of networks for cooperation in order to promote dialogue.

Through the Foundation for the Americas (Trust for the Americas), the General Secretariat has provided an avenue for private sector participation, creating more than 80 centers for persons with disabilities and at risk youth in over 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. By means of the POETA program, the Foundation has trained approximately 150,000 people with disabilities, and through its freedom of expression programs, it has trained more than 1,000 journalists and contributed to the adoption of information laws in several countries. At the same time, we have continued to encourage the participation of civil society to enter into dialogue with our political bodies, and today we have a meeting aimed at heading in that direction, related to the General Assembly; with the same purpose, we have submitted a specific strategy on ways to better approach civil society for the consideration by Member States.

In relation to Article IX of Chapter II of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we have supported the process of preparing the draft of the Inter-American Convention to prevent, punish, and eradicate racism and all forms of discrimination and intolerance, by providing legal advice and technical support. The General Secretariat has been permanently committed to the activities of the working group so as to draft the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We are implementing the Inter-American Programme for the Promotion of the Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity in all organs and agencies of the OAS. And since the adoption of the monitoring mechanism of the Convention of Belem do Para, the General Secretariat has consistently supported its activities, in particular the activities of expert evaluators and, in general, the assessment processes and multilateral evaluation conferences.

The rest of the issues are in the text of the report, which is quite large—more than 30 pages—and, I hope that countries can review it. I think it shows, quite broadly, all that is done. And, its not that some of them were not carried out before, but I think it shows much more clearly what we intend to do with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Generally, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is spoken of when there is conflict, when there are problems, and from all sides, we hear, apply the Inter-American Democratic Charter. I think that, primarily, the Inter-American Democratic Charter is made to be applied every day, not only when there are arguments, debates, or conflicts, but through a permanent policy agenda of democracy promotion that the Organization should pursue. That is the effort we intended to demonstrate this morning.

Thank you very much