Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


September 22, 2016 - United Nations Headquarters, New York

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The defense and promotion of democracy and human rights and the participation of civil society in the decisions of government are central to the work we have set out for ourselves at the OAS to achieve “More rights for more people.”

To receive this honor today strengthens my belief that this is the right path - one we will continue to pursue with conviction.

Dear Friends,

  • Mark Palmer was a man who believed firmly and passionately in the role that diplomacy could play in moving the democracy and human rights agenda.
  • I share that belief. Diplomacy is not a neutral activity . Allow me to cite Desmond Tutu, who said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
  • The Secretary General of the Organization of American States must be committed to the defense of human rights, democracy, and all the agreements the countries of the Americas have signed, as it reflects their commitment and consensus; he cannot walk away from this responsibility. I am convinced there  are no shades of gray when it comes to human rights and democracy.
  • Since taking office in May 2015, my administration has focused  in reinvigorating the OAS commitment on democratic values and human rights, and fighting exclusion, racism, persecution and prejudice. In sum, to bring the OAS closer to the needs and demands of citizens in the Americas.
  • In terms of the functioning of democracy in our region, greater results are needed. Citizens want and need more opportunities for progress. They want to see the playing field levelled, not skewed in favor of the elites.
  • But democracy also demands tolerance for diverse political views and the ability to resolve differences within institutional structures and the rule of law. We have seen this element of democracy under attack in some countries in the region.
  • In the Americas we have a blueprint to follow in promoting democracy. It is up to us to ensure that our countries live up to that blueprint.
    In the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Conventions on Human Rights and Combating Corruption, among others, there are commitments based on democratic principles, including the recognition of a series of rights, aimed at ensuring a basic level of well-being for our citizens.
  • Commitment to these principles and the practice of democracy in the Hemisphere also require being willing to take action.
  • Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy do not only exist when it is convenient.
  • We have an obligation to point out issues and challenges wherever they exist.
  • It is our role at the OAS, then, to be at the forefront of the struggle for democracy – and not just in terms of an election every four or five years.
  • Our principles mean little if we do not fight against corruption and impunity  ,  if we do not work to resolve the enormous differences in the  region in terms of access to social, economic and civil rights.
  • Our principles developed  in Inter-American Democratic agreements mean little if we do not understand that the killing and persecution of journalists in the region means that we are ourselves silenced;
  • If we do not understand that the rights of migrants must be treated the same as the rights of all of us:
  • If we do not assume responsibility for ensuring  peace in Colombia;
  • If we do not do our part to free political prisoners anywhere in the Hemisphere.
  • These are just a few of the reasons why we must speak clearly in terms of the principles and values that define ourselves.
  • This is the position I have held since my administration began. The defense of democratic principles, human rights, collective security and opportunities for all,  are our responsibility.
    The way we have gone about assuming that responsibility may have surprised some diplomats, but that is as I see it the essential role of the OAS Secretary General – to assume the political responsibility for these commitments made by our member states.

For these reasons and many more, it is an honor to receive this prize and to be with you today.

Many many thanks.