Media Center



February 27, 1996 - Washington, DC

I am honored to welcome all the experts and representatives of the States who have come to OAS headquarters to participate in this preparatory meeting of the Specialized Conference on Terrorism, to be held shortly in Lima. I wish to specially thank Ambassador Beartiz Ramacciotti, Chair of the Working Group on Terrorism, whose tireless leadership has made this meeting possible.

As you know, the purpose of this preparatory meeting is to analyze the issues surrounding terrorism and identify those elements that would motivate the international community to adopt sanctions.

This is not the first time that this issue has been debated in these halls.

In April 1970, the OAS issued Permanent Council Resolution 5, condemning terrorism, and the kidnappings and extortion connected with that crime. In turn, the Special General Assembly, held in June 1970, condemned terrorist acts as crimes against humanity, declaring that they constitute serious common crimes, and charged the Assembly and the Inter-American Juridical Committee with preparing a draft convention.

At that time, the Assembly stated that political or ideological pretexts did not justify such acts and, at the same time, expressed its adherence to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, thereby leaving no doubt as to the unconditional commitment of the nations of the hemisphere to the rights, freedoms, and guarantees of persons.

The Inter-American Juridical Committee prepared a draft convention, which proposed a number of alternatives, given the serious difficulties and obstacles encountered in legally defining certain practices that could be categorized as political violations. The Committee's work led to the Washington Convention.

This General Assembly resolution was adopted 26 years ago but since then, to be frank, not much progress has been made in this area. As no conceptual framework was found in which to cast the differing views on the issue, we have been deprived of international legal instruments that would enable us to resolutely address this threat to our societies and freedom that assumes so many different forms and constantly recurs.

After the long East-West confrontation, the countries of the hemisphere are now undergoing a process of institutional change and strengthening. Democracy is increasingly sound, citizen participation processes are deepening, progress is being made toward greater transparency, control, and scrutiny of government activities. Today citizens are better informed and demand that their public officials be more active. This is the greatest deterrent to arbitrary action and abuse of power.

This is why there are better conditions today to deal with those who use violent and criminal methods to violate citizens' freedom.

Our Heads of State and Government at the Miami Summit understood this when they established that the fight against terrorism has a clearly multilateral dimension and gave the OAS the mandate to find a collective response.

In order for the work we are beginning today to proceed with minimal difficulties and disputes, it is necessary to view the problem from different perspectives, proposing suitable instruments to arrive at the common objective of pursuing, condemning, and punishing the perpetrators and instigators of these acts. We must do all this within the context of justice and international law.

In the spirit of fueling debate rather than proposing solutions, I wish to make some observations here on two issues that have been and continue to be controversial in the international discussions on terrorism.

One is the legal definition of the crime, and another, no less controversial, is the extradition of terrorists.

With respect to the first, any draft regulations on this area should establish some basic principles, leaving it up to the domestic legislation of each country to define those practices that constitute acts of terrorism, such as the definition of perpetrators, partners, instigators, and accomplices. This will prevent us from getting caught up in academic debate, something that has caused problems in earlier discussions.

In view of the serious difficulties in legally defining these practices, I think it wise to refer to the standards established in other international conventions and instruments that could be useful in studying this issue.

For example, I find particularly helpful the wording of Article 1 of the Washington Convention, which establishes that the contracting states are committed to cooperating with each other, to prevent and punish acts of terrorism, and especially, kidnapping, homicide, and other attempts against the lives and physical integrity of persons, as well as extortion in connection with these offenses.

Similarly, the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism establishes in Article 1(d) that crimes involving kidnapping, the taking of hostages, or the unlawful detention of persons cannot be considered political offenses, offenses related to a political offense, or offenses inspired by political motives.

Likewise, Article 1(e) establishes that the legal term political offense cannot be used as a pretext for acts committed using bombs, rocket launchers, or grenades, among other means. Similar provisions are made for violent acts committed against property, when such acts may pose a collective threat to persons.

The rules reported above do not give rise, per se, to anything that could cause the inalienable rights, freedoms, and guarantees of persons to be disregarded, or that might prevent the exercise of activities which genuinely incite or could incite political opposition.

Undoubtedly, the careful selection of the type of behavior to be regulated will be essential to the establishment of a suitable instrument to prevent and combat terrorism in the Americas.

Within this conceptual framework, which should also take into account the principles set forth in Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, States should be able to continue to advance in the struggle against terrorism with the fullest respect for rights and liberties.

With respect to extradition, prior discussions can also shed some light on the issue. The Washington Convention establishes in Article 3 that persons tried or sentenced for the offenses contemplated in the Convention are subject to extradition pursuant to the provisions of the treaties currently in force.

Similarly, the 1979 European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism establishes in Article 1 that, in order to make extradition possible between the Contracting States, none of the offenses to which it applies shall be considered political offenses, offenses related to a political offense or inspired by political motives.

This means that there is absolutely no doubt that the acts regulated in these conventions will not be characterized as political offenses.

Thus there is a sound base in international, reinforced by the fact that these instruments have been in effect for over 20 years. This proves that it is possible to find a formula which safeguards all principles but divest acts and deeds of political connotations they certainly do not have.

This is a substantial part of the problem, as some countries are obviously concerned about how they can prevent Governments or States, using this pretext, from unjustly or arbitrarily pursuing persons who oppose or contradict the regime.

On this point, I would refer to a number of standards set forth in conventions or others that have been adopted and are currently in force, and would note that it is possible to maintain in all cases the safeguards and guarantees necessary to prevent abuse and arbitrary action.

One of these standards is the country's right to examine a petition for extradition and decide, in accordance with the law, whether or not to accede to it.

Another guarantee usually established allows the States Parties to these instruments to refuse to grant extradition if there are good grounds to believe that the petition is an act of persecution for ethnic, religious, or political reasons.

Similarly, if it were established that requests for extradition should be examined by regular judges, through reasoned decisions, and that, for the examination, the information needed to support the petition could be requested, guarantees and mechanisms would be established which would undoubtedly preserve the rights and liberties of citizens, without undermining the States' capacity to administer justice and enforce the law.

Similarly, it is advisable to include a provision that contemplates the applicability of the right of asylum, where necessary, to avoid affecting a fundamental guarantee of international law.

Lastly, a full and calm discussion should be engaged, putting all arguments on the table and debating all objections, in an attempt to ensure that the texts adopted leave no loopholes for arbitrary action or intolerance, but lay firm bases for combatting terrorism in the hemisphere.

To no longer characterize as political offenses deeds resulting from terrorist acts, and to pave the way for extraditing their perpetrators or instigators for trial and sentencing under the laws of each country, these are, in my opinion, the cornerstones in the definition of the points that will be debated here in the days to come.

It is therefore the task of the experts to find and determine the best way to proceed to attain these objectives. The Lima meeting will also discuss the issues related with terrorism in each country, the experience acquired in the struggle against this scourge, the means of strengthening information sharing, police and judicial cooperation, and appropriate methods for making extradition a clear and transparent process, in accordance with the law and universal rules of respectful and fair treatment.

The only way to clear the air of forestalling and uncertainty is to tackle this task with determination, to clearly address the debate, and evaluate and examine all the possibilities and alternatives.

This is the only way for justice and the law to prevail and for us to establish an authentic defence of the rights and freedoms of citizens, a shield against barbarism and terror, but also a case against intolerance and arbitrariness.

Thank you