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November 15, 2001 - Harvard University

Harvard University

November 15, 2001

On September 11, 2001 the 34 active member states of the Organization of American States gathered together in Lima, Perú, to sign the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The Charter represents a significant step forward in the promotion, defense, and consolidation of democracy in our hemisphere, and on this day the OAS was about to experience one of its defining historical moments. Before the meeting of the General Assembly commenced, however, we were informed of the horrific terrorist attacks taking place in New York and Washington. Despite the urgency of the situation, and underscoring the importance of the new instrument, Secretary of State Colin Powell stayed in Lima and participated with the other Foreign Ministers as they approved the Democratic Charter by acclamation. On that day the OAS was personally touched as well. Our headquarters are located just a few blocks from the White House and less than a mile from the Pentagon. The close proximity of the attacks deeply affected our staff members and the diplomatic corps of the Organization.

As we all know, the events of that day rightfully overshadowed any other news. It was sadly ironic that at the very moment the countries of the hemisphere gathered to celebrate the core values of freedom and liberty, terrorists attacked these ideals that we hold so dear. The OAS had previously relied on Resolution 1080, approved in Santiago, Chile in 1991, to deal with threats to democracy. This instrument, however, came up short when new threats to democracy, such as the auto-golpe, emerged in the 1990s. The approval of the Charter was a response to some of our shortcomings, and an acknowledgment that we must always be prepared to deal with new challenges to our democracies. The attacks of September 11 made clear the necessity of remaining ever vigilant and have spurred us on at the OAS to seek new ways to deal with the terrorist menace. For terrorism is a new threat to democracy and to all of our fundamental freedoms.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. The OAS has had a long relationship with Harvard University and since 1999 we have sponsored the studies of 10 fellows at the Kennedy School of Government. We are also currently working on establishing a program with doctoral candidates at the school of education and students in the Kennedy School of Government in which they can come to the OAS and work in the Unit for Social Development and Education for up to a year. I look forward to continuing our close relationship.

What is the OAS?

Let me begin by talking a little bit about the OAS itself. I am sure that not everyone here fully knows what the OAS is and what it is that we do. The Organization of American States is the oldest regional multilateral political organization in the world. It was originally called the Pan American Union, which was founded at the First International Conference of American States, held in Washington, D.C. from October 1889 to April 1890. The modern-day OAS traces its roots back to 1948; it is composed of 34 active member states (Cuba was suspended in the early sixties).

As the main forum for political decisions and cooperation in the hemisphere, the OAS has five principal purposes: 1) to strengthen peace and security in the region; 2) to promote and consolidate representative democracy; 3) to provide for common action in the event of aggression against any member state; 4) to seek the solution of political, juridical, and economic problems that may arise in a member state; and 5) to promote, through cooperative action, the development of individual members and the region as a whole.

The American hemisphere is a rich, diverse, and heterogeneous region, even more so than what is reflected in the consensus we manage to achieve on a regular basis at the Organization. For example, countries with as disparate a population size as the United States and St. Kitts and Nevis work side by side at the OAS. While the US has a population of 278 million people, St. Kitts’s population is nearly matched by the number of students and faculty at Harvard and MIT combined. Obviously, the gap that exists in economic terms among the countries of the hemisphere is just as great as the population differences. Despite these disparities, the OAS has managed to reach political consensus on many issues. This consensus has been the result of permanent deliberation and compromise and should not be taken for granted.

Along with the diversity that I just described, it is also important to recognize the transformations that have taken place over a short period of time in the political, social, economic, and cultural sphere. With the end of the Cold War, the world's political and strategic landscape altered dramatically, distinctly changing the manner in which the member states of the Organization interact. This change implied an end to the bipolar division between communism and democracy and led to the consolidation of democratic governments throughout the hemisphere. It has also provided a unique opportunity for a new era of dialogue, cooperation, and integration. We are confident that cooperation and integration are the key to economic progress.

The new spirit of cooperation and dialogue is best exemplified by the now periodic meetings of the Heads of State and Government of the hemisphere at the Summits of the Americas. These high level meetings have given a new direction to the OAS, entrusting it with an increasing number of mandates, ranging from the future of hemispheric trade agreements to the revision and strengthening of the region’s defense and security systems. Accordingly, the OAS has adjusted its agenda and structure to comply with its new mandates. This means that today the OAS must take on new challenges and fulfill its role as a forum for the negotiation and adoption of inter-American instruments and political discussion as well as a center in which experiences can be shared and common or collective policies shaped.

The mandates issued by the Heads of State and Government in their summits have guided OAS activities. We have created specialized forums, institutions, and mechanisms to address and, in many cases, take a global leadership role in the design of responses to economic and political challenges faced worldwide. This leadership role is applicable to the case of terrorism and the response that the OAS has given to this threat.

Before going into the details of what the OAS has done in response to the September 11 attacks, I would like to present an overview of how the inter-American system has historically dealt with the issue of terrorism.

§ The OAS and Terrorism
Over the last 30 years, the OAS has called for strong and effective measures to combat terrorism. In the early 1970s, the OAS defined its general policy against terrorism by strongly condemning kidnapping and extortion, and defining both as crimes against humanity. The Organization also encouraged member states to include measures in their domestic legislation that are suitable to prevent and, when appropriate, punish crimes of this kind.
The first inter-American instrument developed to deal with the threat of terrorism was the "Convention to Prevent and Punish the Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes against Persons and Related Extortion that are of International Significance," known as the "Convention of Washington" adopted in 1971. This convention covered the kidnapping, murder, and assault of persons specially protected by international law, and called on all states parties to cooperate and punish such acts. This Convention, however, was limited in operational terms due to its limited scope.
Another important instrument in the fight against terrorism is the “Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Production of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials,” which was adopted in 1997. This was a major step forward in the OAS’s efforts to improve the region’s capability to fight terrorist acts. It strengthened cooperation, technical assistance, and domestic legal frameworks, in an effort to address one of the crucial components of terrorism: the easy availability of weapons to terrorist groups and criminal organizations.
The manner in which the OAS has treated the topic of terrorism has evolved over time as the threat of terrorism has manifested itself in new shapes and forms. For instance, in 1994, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights recommended that terrorism be considered an international crime which could be prosecuted and punished. The Court proposed the creation of a mechanism through which states could be exempted from international and domestic responsibility for acts committed by irregular armed groups, whether or not they controlled portions of national territory.
That same year, the Heads of State and Government of the hemisphere, gathered together at the First Summit of the Americas, stated that: "national and international terrorism constitute a systematic and deliberate violation of the rights of individuals and an assault on democracy itself" and that "actions by governments to combat and eliminate this threat are essential elements in guaranteeing the law and order and maintaining confidence in government, both nationally and internationally.” It is important to note the importance that governments placed on extradition treaties as well as the promotion of agreements aimed at prosecuting terrorists and penalizing terrorist activities.
In the 1990s, the OAS held two Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Terrorism. The first took place in 1996 in Lima, Peru and the second in 1998 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. At both Conferences, Declarations and Plans of Action were endorsed by member states to guide their efforts in the prevention, combat, and elimination of terrorism, at the national, regional, and international levels.
It was at the Second Specialized Conference when the hemisphere first contemplated the need to create an Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE), within the framework of the OAS. This decision constituted a radical change in the region and represented a significant step forward in anti-terrorism efforts. The OAS moved from merely issuing statements calling for cooperation and condemning terrorists and terrorist activities to the establishment of a fully functioning body where experts could translate into actions the political will of the highest levels of government. The CICTE was created the following year as an entity with technical autonomy and composed of national authorities of all the member states who deal with the terrorism issue. Currently, the main objective of the CICTE is to develop cooperation activities and combat terrorist acts.

This historical review illustrates the manner in which the hemisphere, through the OAS, has increased its workload, enriched the political dialogue, strengthened joint action, and transformed legal instruments and mechanisms to deal with the threat of terrorism.

§ The Aftermath of the September 11 Attacks

On the day of the attacks, the foreign ministers meeting in Lima signed a Declaration condemning the terrorist acts perpetrated on the United States. The Declaration expressed the commitment of the member states to strengthen hemispheric cooperation against terrorism. On September 21, a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs was convened in Washington to address the situation and express the support of the hemisphere in the fight against terrorism. At the same meeting, 21 of the 34 active member states of the Organization that are parties to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, acting as an Organ of Consultation, declared that the terrorist attacks against the US were attacks against all American states parties to the Treaty. As part of this declaration, the members of the Treaty reaffirmed the principle of continental solidarity and established that they would provide effective reciprocal assistance to deal with terrorist attacks and the future threat of any similar attacks against any American state. Currently, the Organ of Consultation remains in operation for the purpose of ensuring the prompt and effective implementation of the resolution that was adopted. On the following days, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1373 which called for a coordinated effort by member states to combat terrorism.

All of the states present at the meeting also moved forward, at the national, regional, and hemispheric levels, in the implementation of concrete steps against terrorism. Member states have also committed themselves to the strengthening of the CICTE. Concrete work is being done in the CICTE to deal with different aspects relating to terrorism including financial controls, border controls, identification of cooperation measures, as well as redefining policy objectives and critical areas of concern. Countries are making use of the OAS as a forum for the exchange of ideas as well as for the dissemination of information between governments and experts in the region.

The regional response has been immediate and well structured. The OAS has been kept informed by its member states on new developments and adjustments that are taking place to address new threats and to increase collaboration in order to prevent any future attacks. From the creation of the Homeland Security Office in the US to the establishment of new commissions and special units in other countries, the region is combining the expertise and experience of different branches of government to deal with terrorism. Substantial efforts are being made as well to increase air, maritime, and land security, to strengthen money laundering control mechanisms, to modify or adopt new domestic legislation, and to advance in the signature and ratification of all international instruments against terrorism.

§ What Lies Ahead

It will take some time, however, for the new initiatives that are taking place to come fully into effect. Nevertheless, we should recognize the efforts that are being made and be confident in the fact that these reforms will lead to positive results in the battle against terrorism and result in bringing those responsible for these ghastly acts to justice.

The OAS is also rapidly changing and adjusting to the post-September 11 reality. In the last few days there have been intense and productive discussions with regard to the strengthening and restructuring of the CICTE. Member states have expressed their interest in transforming the CICTE into a committee whose structure resembles that of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). This transformation would translate into a more tangible and challenging mandate and role. We believe that now is the time for a strong commission against terrorism that will: 1) create a network of experts and authorities in the fields of terrorism, financial controls, and border controls, among others; 2) offer the means for a more effective and secure transfer and exchange of information and intelligence; 3) provide training based upon previous experiences and best practices; 4) develop evaluation and early warning mechanisms; and 5) establish contacts with other organizations and specialized units, so as to avoid duplication of efforts and to maximize the effectiveness of its work.

At the same time, the OAS is diligently working in the drafting of an Inter-American Convention against Terrorism. The intention is to adopt an inter-American instrument that will be inclusive, fully operative, and effective in the fight against terrorism. I am confident we will be able to achieve this goal based on our experience in negotiating the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Production of and Trafficking in Firearms, which was adopted in 1997. The Firearms Convention was the first of its kind and it has served as a model for talks on similar protocols at the global level. I believe that the eventual Convention against Terrorism, which will be completed by mid-2002, will prove to be just as innovative and effective.

The last point I want to make is related to the negative economic effects that the attacks of September 11 have had on the OAS member states. As I mentioned at the outset of this speech, our hemisphere is composed of a great diversity of states in terms of population, development, and economic performance. The smaller states are particularly beginning to feel the economic consequences of the devastation that occurred on September 11. In order to address this issue, the OAS has recently adopted a resolution that calls for the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) and other specialized units and offices of the Organization to intensify their efforts to assist member states in confronting the current adverse economic situation. The CIDI and the other specialized units and offices have also been charged with presenting proposals that will contribute to the economic recovery of member states and to support members in the implementation of measures aimed at improving economic and social conditions.

Every day the world is more connected. Globalization has ensured that we cannot become isolationist and focus only on local threats. Just as the Asian financial crisis had deleterious effects on Brazil and Mexico, the terrorist attacks on the United States have had devastating consequences worldwide. This new interconnectedness and globalization makes more relevant now than ever the work of international organizations like the OAS and the United Nations.

Let me just finish with a quote from a speech that I recently heard President Clinton give at the Washington Society of Association Executives regarding the terrorist threat: “This is more than what we do, it’s about who we are, who they are and what the 21st century’s going to be about. For between ourselves and the Taliban and Mr. Bin Laden, there are radically different views about the nature of truth, the value of life and the content of community.” The Americas as a whole are committed to being the first line of defense against terrorism and we will protect freedom, pluralism, and democracy against those who wish to see these fundamental values destroyed.

Thank you very much.