Media Center



March 10, 2002 - Trinidad and Tobago

The Honorable Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago,

The Honorable Glenda Morean, Attorney General,

Esteemed Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Representatives from international and regional organizations,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As Secretary General of the Organization of American States, I would like to begin by thanking the Government and People of Trinidad and Tobago for their generous hospitality. On behalf of all of us I want to thank the Prime Minister, the Honorable Patrick Manning, the Attorney General, Senator Glenda Morean, and the Interim Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the OAS, for the strong support they have provided for this meeting.

Although it is barely two years since the last meeting of Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General was held in Costa Rica, the circumstances in which we are meeting today are substantially different. The infamous terrorist attacks of September 11, which killed innocent citizens from a majority of our countries, have shown the acts of hatred and cruelty of which international criminals are capable.

On the very day of that tragedy, member states of the OAS responded swiftly by condemning terrorist acts. And only a few days later, during the Meetings of Consultation of Foreign Ministers and States Parties to the Inter-American Treaty on Reciprocal Assistance, it was resolved that those attacks represent attacks against all Americans States, and specific decisions were taken to strengthen hemispheric cooperation against this terrible form of international crime. In implementing those decisions, within the OAS, the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) has been working to develop a full program of activities, and States are negotiating an Inter-American Convention against Terrorism to be presented to the upcoming General Assembly in Barbados.

Many of the measures referred to in the resolution of the Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers and in the CICTE work program, as well as those being considered as part of the negotiations for the Convention, have to do with areas that fall within your competence. In particular, this includes all those matters relating to strengthening mutual legal and judicial assistance, which is also the main theme of this meeting. An issue with which you have been much occupied in the past and also within the hemispheric agenda as adopted by Heads of State and Government at the Quebec City Summit.

In the next two days you will focus on the problems and difficulties facing Ministers and Attorneys General in making legal and judicial cooperation more efficient and effective in combating the various forms of organized transnational crime, including terrorism. The same goes for the exchange of ideas on specific actions that could or should be taken or encouraged, at the hemispheric level, to overcome the problems or difficulties identified.

I also think it entirely proper to consider the issue of legal and judicial cooperation both in relation to terrorism and in relation to other manifestations of organized transnational crime. This is true, in the first place because, as we have seen in several cases, many of the manifestations of organized transnational crime are interrelated and reinforce or complement each other. This is often the case with terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal trafficking in firearms, ammunition and explosives, to mention only a few of the forms of organized international crime.

In the second place, because these manifestations of organized transnational crime does not respect boundaries. On the contrary, they try to take advantage of them to evade justice and to cover their acts with impunity. These forms of crime challenges our fundamental freedoms, our political systems and the rule of law. At the same time we must admit our institutional limitations and weaknesses in this regard.

Finally, because instruments such as those relating to extradition, confiscation of assets, exchange of evidence and many others in the area of mutual legal assistance, are useful for combating terrorism as well as other forms of organized transnational crime.

Within the OAS, we have negotiated 24 treaties relating to legal and judicial cooperation. This is without doubt our principal legacy and contribution to strengthening and consolidating legal and judicial cooperation in the hemisphere. These treaties refer to essential subjects, such as extradition, mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, letters rogatory, acceptance of evidence abroad, enforcement of provisional measures and extraterritorial effectiveness of judgments.

We have created organs or mechanisms for cooperation and monitoring, such as the Advisory Committee on the Convention against the Illicit Manufacture and Trafficking of Firearms, or the Follow-up Mechanism on the Convention against Corruption.

No doubt the time has come for us to move forward in adopting a comprehensive hemispheric strategy of legal and judicial cooperation, as well as to monitor our progress on a regular basis and decide the steps that still lie ahead of us. Indeed, this is what is expected of us, in light of the meeting of our Heads of State and Government in Quebec City.

A comprehensive hemispheric strategy in this field must relate to issues such as those that you have been considering in previous meetings, and those that will be concerning you on this occasion. Allow me to mention a few of these.

The first has to do again with treaties of legal and judicial cooperation. There are a number of issues concerning them that need to be addressed. What types of problems or difficulties do states have in signing or ratifying them? In applying them effectively in concrete cases? Are they really effective for combating organized transnational crime? Are they sufficient to our objectives?

Consistent with your decisions in the last two meetings, simplifying procedures and requirements for extradition of international criminals, the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime, and other matters of mutual legal assistance, should also be covered by a strategy of this kind. We need to move forward quickly in order to prevent international criminals from taking advantage of our borders to evade justice. We must attack and eliminate the impunity that still attaches to so many truly brutal crimes.

To this end, it is important to create the network for exchanging information in the area of mutual legal assistance that you approved at your last meeting. Indeed, this initiative was strongly supported by the Quebec City Summit and by our General Assembly, for prompt implementation in the hemisphere. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Canada, which has taken the lead in this initiative, as well as Argentina, the Bahamas and El Salvador, which played an active role in the pilot stage of the proposal.

Finally, a comprehensive strategy in this area needs to include other forms of cooperation in order to improve our technical capacities and to train our officials.

I would like to refer now to two issues that have been proposed for consideration as the second part of your agenda, relating to improving the administration of justice.

It is clear that we in the Americas need to move forward in strengthening the use of alternative dispute settlement mechanisms wherever this is possible. This is the only way to allow the courts to focus on those cases that, because of their juridical, social and economic importance, demand their attention.

Historically, the courts were the last resort for resolving disputes, when the parties had failed to reach agreement or procedures such as friendly settlement or arbitration had not borne fruit. Yet in some parts of our region, we have gone in the reverse direction, and have tended to "judicialize" all disputes, thereby multiplying costs and the number of trials, clogging the court calendar and, in practice, failing to dispense prompt and due justice and to prevent impunity. On this point, the OAS could contribute to publicizing progress at the regional and national level through its information system over the Internet.

In prisons or penitentiaries we are often faced with insurrections, confrontations between prisoners and the authorities, complaints of abuse and clear cases of prisons that are unsafe, inadequate, poorly equipped and with high indices of overcrowding.

Policies in this area deserve special attention as much for humanitarian considerations as for concerns of efficiency and effectiveness in combating crime. A number of studies have underscored the high degree of prisoner recidivism, which in itself demonstrates that our mechanisms for socializing and rehabilitating prisoners are ineffective. On the other hand, the resources that societies and governments invest in combating crime are reflected, in part by the amount of criminals arrested, standing trial or convicted. Failure to invest sufficiently in this field squander of our societies’ scarce resources.

I am convinced that this is a virtually unexplored area of potential cooperation between our countries, and one where we should be able to help each other a great deal, for example through the exchange of experience and horizontal cooperation in. To this end a technical meeting should be held among the senior prison authorities of our countries.

Finally, I would like to refer to the issue of combating cyber crime and the need to adopt streamlined and efficient mechanisms of international cooperation.

In this respect, the group of intergovernmental experts on cyber crime that met two years ago has produced very useful results. Their diagnosis and their recommendations have given us a good navigation chart for the kinds of efforts that are needed to pursue and punish these new kinds of crime and to prevent criminals from making unlawful and improper use of major advances in technology and telecommunications.

I believe that sufficient time has passed since those recommendations were made that we can now assess the progress achieved, and the steps that still remain to be taken in this field. In this respect, I am impressed by the utility both of the questionnaire prepared by the OAS General Secretariat for analyzing progress against those recommendations and, in particular, the proposal that has been made for convening the Group of Government Experts once again to follow up on those recommendations and to move forward with the preparation of draft international legal instruments and model legislation for strengthening hemispheric cooperation in combating international crimes of this kind.

We are meeting in a particularly difficult and challenging time for the hemispheric community of nations. We are not here by coincidence but because we share the same concerns and responsibilities. Terrorists and international criminals of all kinds represent a tremendous challenge and threat to our democracies. And yet we can be certain that the forces of crime will not prevail if we are able to work together.

I am sure that this Port of Spain meeting will be remembered as a fundamental step forward in strengthening our hemispheric cooperation to combat terrorism and organized transnational crime in the Americas.

I wish you great success in your deliberations.

Thank you very much