Media Center



May 7, 2006 - Washington, DC

Thank you for your invitation to participate with you in this very important meeting and let me extend to you all a warm welcome to our Hall of the Americas. I know you have had a very busy and productive week and I want to congratulate you for that. I am very happy to see among you so many representatives of Latin America, including my own country. South America is home to 360,000 Jews, 200 hundred thousand of the in Argentina; and Mexico and Central America each have some 50,000. In that sense, our part of America has also been a land that Jews regarded with hope.

As some of you know, my relationship with the American Jewish Committee started more than a decade ago, when I was Foreign Minister of Chile and I hope that we can strengthen it further in my new role as Secretary General of the OAS. We share common ideals of freedom, democracy, equality and non discrimination and must work together to make them a reality in our entire hemisphere.

The issues of equality and nondiscrimination are no strangers to the Organization of American States. The OAS Charter establishes that the American states proclaim the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction of race, nationality, creed, or sex. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man also proclaims that all persons are equal before the law and have the rights and duties enshrined in that declaration, without distinction as to race, sex, language, creed, or any other factor. For its part, the American Convention on Human Rights (1969) prohibits discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.

Finally, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a milestone in the history of our Organization which was signed in Lima on the fateful day of September 11, 2001, states that democracy and participation are promoted by the elimination of discrimination, especially gender, ethnic and race discrimination, as well as diverse forms of intolerance, the promotion of the human rights of indigenous peoples and migrants, and respect for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the Americas.

We therefore have, as you can see, clear regulatory guidelines for addressing all forms of discrimination and intolerance. However, as you are well aware, we need to update and tailor them to the new challenges posed by globalization and new manifestations of racism and intolerance, often in the form of international terrorism. In this undertaking, we need to know that we are working together. The OAS regards the Jewish community as a whole, and the American Jewish Committee, in particular, as its strategic partners in this pressing task.

For a long time, Jewish communities have lived among us relatively peacefully and in freedom. However, in the past 15 years, the number of attacks on Jewish communities has increased in Latin America, as in other parts of the world. Although that increase has not been as marked in Latin America as in Europe and the Middle East, this does not mean that we can lower our guard against outbursts of hate crimes against Jewish communities and, in general, against any manifestation of racism and intolerance in the Americas. The horrific attacks on the Israeli embassy and the headquarters of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires serve as a grim reminder of this fact.
So the challenge we are taking on today has to do with the quest for an international set of rules and regulations protecting those who, in varying degrees, are victims of discrimination. This matter is closely linked to democratic governance, the main priority of our Organization today. Democracy necessarily entails the promotion of a culture of inclusion, equality, and tolerance among our peoples, and the elimination of all forms of racism, discrimination, and xenophobia. These are key objectives for the exercise of human rights and the consolidation of the rule of law in our Hemisphere.
These problems are not going to be solved by themselves. They require our commitment and concerted actions.
The General Assembly of 2000 approved a resolution calling for the preparation of a “draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance” and instructed the Permanent Council to study the need to prepare a draft inter-American convention to prevent, punish, and eradicate racism and all forms of discrimination and intolerance. Last year in Fort Lauderdale the Assembly instructed the Permanent Council to establish a working group to prepare that Draft. In that resolution anti-Semitism was explicitly mentioned together with other forms of racism and intolerance The Working Group held its first meeting on September 23, 2005 and has been meeting regularly ever since. Particular mention must be made of the Special Meeting held at OAS headquarters on November 28 and 29, 2005.

We trust that following the upcoming regular session of the General Assembly in June 2006, the Working Group will resume work as soon as possible and more specifically that the Conference against Discrimination that should take place this year in Brazil can be carried out as planned. I know that the AJC has been keeping track of the activities of the Working Group, and your presentation to them two months ago will surely play a key role in guiding the debate and in determining the best tools for addressing the scourge of anti-Semitism in our region.

One international instrument that can serve as a model with respect to anti-Semitism for a future Inter-American Convention is the Berlin Declaration of 2004, of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE). The Conference that adopted that Declaration represented one of the first steps taken by the leaders of the different countries in connection with a plan of action to counter anti-Semitism. That Declaration condemns all manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance; promotes educational programs for combating anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred; calls for efforts to combat hate crimes; institutionalizes the monitoring of hate crimes; and encourages dialogue among government experts in this field. Several countries in the region have state-of-the-art legislation to combat discrimination against Jewish communities, such as the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay, which may also be used as best practices for legislation in other countries.

The Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance clearly represents a magnificent opportunity for OAS Member States to reach points of consensus on a hemispheric policy to combat discrimination. Particularly in a global world, discrimination, in many respects, transcends national borders and becomes a regional issue. Accordingly, actions to prevent, combat, punish, and eradicate discrimination require multifaceted international cooperation among States. Moreover, it is crucially important to promote international cooperation in order to share ideas and experiences and to execute programs designed to protect people from discrimination.

Through its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, our Organization has closely followed investigations into the vicious terrorist attack on the AMIA headquarters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights appointed an observer to attend the oral and public proceedings that were held at the time. It is important to point out that the Argentine Government has admitted that it failed to take effective measures to prevent the attack, especially in light of the fact that an attack against the Israeli embassy had taken place two years before. The State also acknowledged responsibility in failing to impede the cover up that subsequently occurred and for the serious and deliberate lack of action in investigating the crime.

We feel encouraged by the recent responsiveness of the Argentinean government and urge them to expand their efforts in prosecuting the case. We at the OAS will continue to follow this process closely.

The OAS must move toward a commitment by our member states to forge inclusive societies, in tune with the XXIst Century, pointing out the costs of social exclusion and the benefits of creating societies in which diversity is fully respected and all peoples can live at peace with each other. As UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said, we must remain vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they may appear. I am certain that we can continue to cooperate with the American Jewish Committee in the achievement of this important goal.