Media Center



May 31, 2002 - St. Georges - Grenada

Senator the Honorable Sir John Watts, President of the Senate, The Honorable Sir Curtis Strachan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. the Honorable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister, Other Members of Parliament, Distinguished Guests, Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I have accepted your invitation to visit the beautiful Spice Island of the Caribbean, Grenada. I am very honored to address this Special Joint Sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, regarding our most important tasks today: our work in security matters and our newest instrument in the battle to safeguard democracy, the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Mr. Prime Minister, you are an example of enlightened leadership, which the rest of the Hemisphere looks to with admiration. The prosperous society that thrives here is proof of your tireless work and unflagging commitment to your country. I salute you and pledge the OAS's continued, full cooperation with your government. I would also like to express my appreciation for the work of your Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, His Excellency Ambassador Denis Antoine. Ambassador Antoine's well known for his thought-provoking presentations in the Permanent Council and his substantive contributions to the work of the Organization and its committees.

I also wish to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the significant engagement of Caribbean countries in the work and activities of the Organization. The nations of the Caribbean used to view the OAS through the prism of technical cooperation activities, which they considered the main task of our Organization. But the Summit of the Americas process and an increasing demand for multilateralism has changed that thinking. The Summit process has broadened and deepened our agenda, has set out before us the many issues in which the interest and challenges of Latin-American countries, the United States and Canada have significant points of intersection with the Caribbean nations. It must be said, as well, that the numerous challenges of globalization have brought to light the equally numerous advantages of collective action. This is a very encouraging development for us at OAS; it has given us more opportunities to be useful, and it has forced us to keep our agenda timely and relevant.

Adding to the evidence of the increasing engagement between the Caribbean and the OAS, in just a few days the Organization will be celebrating its XXII Regular Session of the General Assembly in Bridgetown, Barbados. In that meeting, several issues will stand out: security concerns, the Interamerican Democratic Charter and the path to increasing trade and prosperity. This agenda reflects the notable events of this past year, but it also stems from the longer-term developments we have just mentioned. I would like to focus on these matters and their relevance for Grenada.

This past year democracy came under attack in profound ways. On September 11, while we were meeting to approve the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, our ideals and our way of life were assaulted in an unprecedented act of terrorism that took the lives of citizens of 30 of 34 of our Member States. The attacks constituted the greatest challenge to our civilisation, to our values, to human rights and civil liberties, to the principles of tolerance and pluralism we all hold dear. Make no mistake, September 11 underscored the great divide between our governments, our societies, and this institution on the one hand, and terrorists and intolerant regimes on the other. Collectively but in one voice, our member states expressed to our sister nation, the United States, our grief, our outrage, our indignation, and our sorrow over the loss of thousands of innocent lives, as well as our prayers for the victims and their families.

The many benefits of democracy, human dignity and economic opportunity mean little to our people if we cannot keep them safe. These despicable crimes have brought us face to face with the greatest threat to our collective security. The interamerican system and its Member States responded with certainty and confidence to these challenges with decisive action, strong co-operation, and firm resolve. We had to act in a way that made clear to the terrorists and their collaborators that they were mistaken if they believed that we would not be intimidated by their barbaric behaviour. And we decided, in a historic commitment, that the attacks on the US are attacks on all American States. That our states will lend each other assistance and that they are resolute as they embark upon their collective defence. We are committed to stand together against such savagery, answering loudly and clearly President Bush's call for nations to take their place in the war on terrorism.

It bears mentioning that the OAS's work on counter-terrorism precedes the September attacks. The specialized conferences in Lima and Mar del Plata articulated the threat of terrorism in the context of a broader hemispheric agenda and created CICTE, the Inter-American Committee for Counter Terrorism. After September 11, Member States strengthened CICTE to work on policy formulation, planning, and recommending improvements for border and financial controls. CICTE also worked to contribute to dismantle terrorism financing systems, to destroy its logistical support, to eliminate its sanctuaries, to gather and analyze intelligence information, and to take action against forged documents.

Substantial efforts are also underway to increase air, maritime, and land security, to strengthen money laundering control mechanism, to modify or adopt new domestic legislation and to move forward in the signature and ratification of all international instruments against terrorism. A small Secretariat has been established to provide an institutional home for important counter-terrorism training programs and coordination with other inter-American agencies like CICAD, the Financial Action Task Forces, and CIFTA (The convention against the illegal trafficking of small arms and explosives). We have being working closely, as well, with the United Nations Committee on Terrorism.

It has been particularly useful to receive the support of the Justice Ministerial and Attorneys General that took place in Trinidad and Tobago, this year, which strengthened mutual legal and judicial assistance against terrorism and other modalities of organized international crime. The ministers are also currently working on the use of alternative dispute settlement, on prison systems, on cyber-crime, on simplifying extradition for international criminals, on forfeiting crime proceeds through the confiscation of assets. By initiative of Canada, a pilot project has created a network to exchange of information on these matters.

We also take to our Assembly in Barbados for their consideration a Convention against terrorism, which reaffirms the commitment of Member States, to cooperate under international law, offers a solid and comprehensive legal framework, emphasizes border and financial controls, and promotes training.

In the last decade, the inter-American system has generated a considerable number of instruments, tools and initiatives in the area of hemispheric security to deal with these myriad challenges. The time is ripe to funnel these diverse tools and ideas under into one framework, which is what the Foreign Ministries decided in September to convene the Conference on Security mandated by the Quebec Summit. The security concerns of small island states must figure prominently in this work. Here we must, for example, seek to adopt the recommendations of the inter-American Committee concerning disaster mitigation and prevention, and examine the apprehension that has been expressed about the transportation of nuclear waste.

In October 2001 we held a special session of the Permanent Council to consider the economic impact of September 11 on the region. The tourism sector of the island states of the Caribbean has been the most affected by the events of September 11, deepening a decline that had already begun in the first semester of 2001. The OAS has initiated work, not totally financed yet, on a program to assist in the recovery of the tourism sector in the Caribbean. The project includes initiatives in education, public relations, marketing, planning, product development, institutional strengthening, and technology transfer. The support of USAID has permitted the opening of tourism resource centers in Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, St Kitts, and Saint Lucia. The Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development has also addressed the situation with practical training programs for Caribbean port security officials and other security and anti-corruption programs.

Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For us, the most significant achievement of the last decade is the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, Peru. I stress the location of the document's signing because our work in Peru has an important influence on the design of the Democratic Charter. The document grew out of our work with the political and social forces to face the significant challenges posed by a democratic, elected government that became increasingly authoritarian and moved away from democratic principles, closed congress, intervened in the judicial system and disrespected the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, as well as significantly damaging freedom of expression and the press. That regime ended in a wave of corruption and improper use of public resources and finally destroyed the environment of equity and liberties in the electoral process.

As you no doubt know, representatives from the Caribbean states were the most adamant that patience must be observed to undertake domestic as well as civil society consultations. With this in mind, the foreign ministers agreed to hold a Special General Assembly dedicated expressly to the Democratic Charter. In hindsight, it is clear that the Caribbean delegations were correct in their analysis of the negotiations.

Without a doubt, that extra time was put to effective use. Between June and September 2001 deliberations and negotiations were reopened on the Charter at OAS headquarters in Washington DC. Through the course of these discussions, member states refined and amplified the Charter.

The approval of the Charter gave clear notice that those who try to break the constitutional order would face an American community of nations united to protect the institutions of democracy. In this charter we see the mission of the Interamerican System and the OAS, the shared vision and principles our needs, our aspirations, our collective will, our decision to work united to defend our core values. The Charter is a tool to illuminate the road to the representative democracy enshrined in the OAS Charter.

The document lists the many elements of modern democratic governance, establishing how today democracy is a lot more than just free, fair and contested elections. It considers the protection of human rights and public liberties, the separation and independence of powers, transparency, accountability, honesty, responsibility, citizen participation, strong civil society, pluralism of political parties, access to information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, preserving the system of checks and balances, elimination of all kind of discrimination, the supremacy of the Constitution, and the rule of law.

The Charter bring attention to a new generation of rights: those of indigenous people, those to protect ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in the Americas, those of children, women, migrant workers and their families, and the basic rights of workers express in the conventions of ILO. We are protecting the right of our people to live in democracy and provide them with the tools to confront the threats and challenges they may face in a manner that is orderly, decisive, timely and consensual.

We have affirmed our belief in a system in which human dignity is assured because citizens are free to act, to think, and to choose their leaders. By adopting the Democratic Charter, we have embraced a system in which political parties and viewpoints compete freely, under the watchful eye of a free press. We have committed ourselves to giving our citizens an opportunity to share in the prosperity and workers a say in how and for whom they work.

The timing of the Charter stems from our belief that we live a moment of history in which we face very significant threats to the democratic systems of several nations, that we still possess weak public institutions and political systems, and ineffective social and economic policies. We are very concerned that support for democracy has diminished in most of our countries, particularly in Latin America. In our journey from San Jose to Lima last year, we adopted a very broad vision of what democracy means to all of us, a vision in which our political systems end up absorbing responsibility for everything our public institutions do or not do, did or did not do. The citizens of our member countries look with concern on the flaws of the institutions that supervise, regulate, and control public societies, its companies, and its utilities. They conclude that these are defects of the democratic system.

We must also recognise that political globalisation has generated global awareness for social justice and in spirit of defence of democratic principles and human rights of every citizen. This places new demands and enormous pressure on our political systems and our democracies.

The Democratic Charter is specifically designed with prevention in mind. The Charter establishes in Article 18 that in situations where a government feels that it's "democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power" is affected, government may arrange for visits or other actions by the Secretary General and the Permanent Council. This proactive measure provides member states and the OAS with a level of flexibility that never existed before.

It is thus very important that we recognised that the Democratic Charter is a lot more than a tool to face crisis. Countries can look for support when the political and institutional process is at risk or when the exercise of legitimate power is in danger. It is not merely a tool to sanction countries. That interpretation is simplistic and does a great disservice to a document and a commitment that is more instructive in nature, intended to shape decisions by identifying what we truly mean when we talk about representative democracy, oriented to persuade, to prevent, to fix the faults, to strengthen democratic values.

What becomes clear, then, is the need for strong government: effective, prestigious, democratic, and respectful of the rights of every citizen, protective of the vulnerable. The Charter is the beginning of a great responsibility of our governments to face globalisation, to face the ups and downs of world economy, and its recurrent crises. Our Charter focuses on the building blocks of democracy, the role of education, the fight against poverty, the solidarity among nations, and the close link between democracy and economic development and of the economic, social and cultural rights of the protocol of San Salvador.

If diplomatic initiatives and good offices fail to restore the democratic order, a Special Session of the General Assembly may take the decision to suspend a state from OAS activities. In order for this to occur there must be an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the member states. Despite the suspension, the Member State must still fulfill its duties to the Organization - including human rights obligations. The suspension can only be lifted by a two-thirds vote.

The final version of the Charter was greatly strengthened from the original with the inclusion of a chapter titled "Democracy, Integral Development, and Combating Poverty." This section began as an initiative of the Caribbean and Central American countries, which saw the obvious need to link social and democratic development. The Chapter calls for the preservation of the environment through sustainable development and emphasizes the necessity of educating the citizenry to the process of strengthening democratic institutions

Finally, the Charter calls on the citizens of the hemisphere to participate in the democratic process and take seriously the responsibility charged to them as citizens in a democracy. It also underscores the obligations that governments have to seek a more inclusive democracy, so that citizens enjoy the maximum opportunity to participate.

In the same spirit of the democratic charter, the Heads of State and Government at the Quebec Summit moved beyond traditional concerns to focus on innovative issues such as the role of political parties and effective legislatures in representative democracy. This year for example we supported the constitutional reform agenda in the Caribbean working with the UNDP and the University of the West Indies. The Caribbean has been able to see first-hand in the last few years the efficacy of electoral observation missions. With mandates of Quebec, the OAS is assisting inter-parliamentary initiatives and continues working to empower local authorities.

Inherent in our commitment to the Democratic Charter, is a commitment to defend and promote human rights in the hemisphere. When we talk about the Charter, we must talk of The Inter-American System of Human Rights, which is today more active than ever. Without doubt, today we operate in a space of greater consensus among Member States, with better rules of procedure and admissibility, with expanded participation of civil society, with the role of reporter used in a more comprehensive and effective manner particularly in relation to freedom of expression. I believe the system is prepared for a qualitative jump. To make this possible, the system needs more resources and to solve the issue of univerzalization(which means that all countries accept the recommendations of the Commission of Human Rights and the sentences of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, to give more access to the system to the citizens, to see if the organs can work on a more permanent basis.

We have stepped up our work on women's rights and gender equity and equality and integrated gender perspective in all our programs and policies; In the last year CIM has emphasized the application of the Belen do Para Convention, regarding violence against women, to the Caribbean Countries. We are preparing to draft an Interamerican Convention on racism, discrimination and intolerance; we are promoting the respect for International Humanitarian law and the International Criminal Court. Organizations of Civil Society are increasingly participating in our activities.

Already the Democratic Charter has become a reference point for Member States seeking benchmarks for corrective steps and consideration of the situation in Haiti. Although the Charter has not been invoked with the invitation of the government we have tried hard to find a political solution to the serious problems that arose from the parliamentary elections of May 2000. The Assembly of last year in Costa Rica gave us a strong mandate to work with all sectors of Haitian society to find an agreement to solve those problems and to launch a national dialogue for reconciliation and strengthening democratic institutions. Immediately after the Assembly we worked hard to advance in complying with the mandate of our assembly. The Government, the Lavalas party, the civil society organizations, the Convergence Democratic, and the churches came to an agreement on an Electoral Council to organize reliable elections.

Two incidents in July and December 2001 represented a serious setback for the whole idea of solving the problems of election of May 2000 by a political agreement.

In the last few weeks we have launched a mission in Haiti pursuant to an invitation of the government of President Aristide. The Mission was developed to deal with human rights, the Judiciary, security concerns, and governance. The mission has been welcomed by all, has met with support of the group of friends' countries and represents an exceptional opportunity to help Haitian Institutions and the Haitian people. In Haiti and beyond, we must build on these first tentative steps to ensure that the Charter that all Member States agreed to, is a living and meaningful document

But the biggest test of the Charter has been confronting the situation in Venezuela. As events became known, our Permanent Council met under Charter Art. 20, condemning the breaking of the constitutional order and the deplorable acts of violence, expressing solidarity with the people of Venezuela and urging normalisation of the democratic institutional framework within the context of the Interamerican Democratic Charter. The Council agreed to send a fact-finding mission to Venezuela headed by the Secretary General to undertake the necessary diplomatic initiatives, including good offices, to promote as quickly as possible the normalisation of the democratic institutional framework. The resolution also convoked a Special General Assembly to receive the report of the Secretary General and adopt such decisions as it deemed appropriate.

My report to the assembly has been public for some time. I would like to stress, that we all hope that Venezuelans will achieve reconciliation, defuse some of the most serious conflicts, regain governability, achieve political stability, and begin to foster economic recovery. The OAS remains at the disposal of the government and the people of Venezuela to guarantee that these events will never take place again.

In many ways, the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is our acknowledgement and commitment to appreciate the progress we have made while at the same time acknowledging that there is still much to be done. These challenges to strengthen our collective security and to defend, to promote democratic principles and values reflects the enormous responsibility that falls to our governments in this very complex world. We must create the domestic conditions for the emergence of more democratic and prosperous nations. At the same time, we must create mechanisms to enable our nations to integrate into the world economy, with all of the challenges and opportunities it represents.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter sets forth the kind of democracies we want to build. Here in Grenada it is clear that democracy is firmly entrenched; we must work to ensure that is the case in the rest of the hemisphere.

I thank you.