Media Center



November 21, 2013 - Medellin, Colombia

I am very happy to be here to welcome you to this Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, on behalf to the Organization of American States.

Let me first of all thank the President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia; Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón; Dr. Aníbal Gaviria; and all the Colombian national and regional authorities that have helped to organize this Meeting with which we are consolidating the MISPA as a permanent technical and policy point of reference for our hemisphere; this is a Meeting that – incidentally – we launched just five years ago.

The concern Colombia has expressed over issues relating to public security, as well as the measures that have been taken in this area are an example of the kind of effort that we ought to be making in the Americas to guarantee our citizens security and peace. It is therefore especially gratifying for this meeting to be hosted in this country and in this city that has warmly welcomed us, just as it did a few years ago for our General Assembly, which was held at this same venue here in Medellín.

Public security remains a major threat to stability, to stronger democracy, and to prospects for development in the Americas. Public opinion in the hemisphere identifies this as a major concern as well. This is not coming from those of us who have responsibility for the issue – it is coming from the citizens themselves, through many and varied polls that find this to be one of the central issues for the citizenry, beyond the statistics in each country. It is therefore very important for efforts to continue so as to turn these meetings into effective decision-making bodies on practical issues that really mean making progress in coordinating our collective capabilities to deal with violence and crime in our countries, and extend our mutual support.

The inter-American system may be lacking in terms of security, we must also understand that it has been yielding results. Like I stated before, in the five years since our First Meeting – which was hosted in Mexico City – public security has become a fundamental pillar of OAS activity. MISPA has been institutionalized and the various agencies have seen an increase in their response capabilities.

We now have an extensive network of institutions and agreements on public security and security of the state. Just to name a few – the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, through which we issued an important report a few months ago on a mandate from the Presidents and Heads of State of the Americas; the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism; the Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security; the Meeting of Ministers of Justice or Other Ministers or Attorneys General; the Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Convention of Belém do Pará, on Violence against Women; the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Inter-American Convention against Corruption; the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials; as well as programs that the IDB, CAF, the World Bank, and other institutions have in place to support member countries' security efforts.

Over these few days, I have had an opportunity to participate in the launch of the Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The 2013-2014 Report is entirely devoted to the subject of violence in Latin America, and presents the most comprehensive perspective on the phenomenon as it unfolds in the region. It is my hope that this report would serve not only for consultation but as a source for action by our countries as well.

As an organization, we have built up a large body of information about violence and crime in the Americas, and that is worth noting. The OAS Observatory is an often cited source in the region. And yet, even though clearly needed and useful, some of the major conventions have not been signed nor ratified by all the states of the region and technical agencies often do not relate to the policy-making bodies. We still need workable institutions for coordination and collective action, to share useful experiences – certain countries’ successful experiences shared with other countries – in order to vigorously tackle transnational organized crime, which is, indeed, coordinated at the international level, unhindered by borders or national sovereignties.

One of the main agreements to emerge from MISPA-III, held in Port of Spain two years ago, was the creation of the Subsidiary Technical Working Group on Police Management. In Mexico City a couple of weeks ago, a meeting of the Technical Working Group brought together important police chiefs and other authorities of the hemisphere.

At that meeting, we introduced a Program for an "Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization." My hope is that we would consider the conclusions of that meeting, and that we would especially consider supporting the Program that I just mentioned, to find in those technical contributions the input needed to inform practical, concrete solutions.

It has now been a decade: We just celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Declaration on Security in the Americas, which was a decisive step toward renewing and enhancing the effort for security for our states. But I do remember as well that, as we celebrated the anniversary that day, there were certain decisions that should be taken at some point and this is the place where they can be taken.

With regard a particular Summit of the Americas mandate on organized crime, the technical follow-up concluded with the so-called "Chapultepec Commitment" that recommended creating an Inter-American Committee against Transnational Organized Crime as an OAS-based coordinating body, to coordinate inter-American cooperation in this arena on an ongoing basis and, to complement it at the same time, a coordinating entity for operations in intelligence and action by prosecutors. I hope that this proposal will be considered and become reality, because to this day we have no policy-making, technical body to organize and coordinate our collective effort to address the growing threat of transnational organized crime.

I also remembered then, that during the 2011 General Assembly in San Salvador the OAS General Secretariat signed a cooperation agreement with the Police Community of the Americas (AMERIPOL), a voluntary association of our hemisphere’s police forces, which has continued to grow, harmoniously carrying out its coordination activities and police cooperation working closely with us. We have worked well with AMERIPOL and hope this organization will still be around in the future.

And finally, I also want to say that we must get by all of the member countries to ratify the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (CIFTA), which is vital to controlling illicit arms trafficking. We have made progress in terms of the marking of conventional weapons. Most countries have ratified the Convention, but that is not enough. We need a body which is compulsory for everyone; and I must reiterate that the very title of the Convention speaks about illicit trafficking; it speak not about domestic policies nor what any country ought to do internally to address arms trafficking issues, but only about fighting together against illicit trafficking that hurts us all.

Distinguished Ministers and Officials:

This meeting will focus on three specific issues: regional cooperation strategies to prevent and deal with threats to public security and with organized crime; joint investigation, particularly crime observatory activities and forward-looking activities; and hemispheric networks and platforms for police information-sharing.

If progress is to be made in these three areas, police institutions need integrated management systems that incorporate at least three key elements. Firstly, strategic direction consistent with state public security policies. Secondly, better-managed processes, adapting them to local realities. And thirdly, improved training and management of our human resources.

Certain issues have been proposed to that end, including codes of ethics for police institutions to guide their members’ thinking and action; development of strategies wellbeing, health, and logistics to help meet the needs of police officers, specific examples of which can be found in the Americas; and the development of local initiatives for social action to benefit police officers and their families.

Police education is at the heart of transformation of the police force. The challenge here is to draw up plans to develop and professionalize the police profession, to equip the men and women of those institutions with the skills and competence to effectively and efficiently deal with old and new forms of crime.

Security in a democratic state demands, too, that human rights for citizens and for the men and women working in security be fully respected and promoted.

Security forces in particular must develop a comprehensive gender policy to guarantee women the right to personal safety and security and to guarantee the right to live free from violence. All states of the Americas must take the steps needed to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international obligations we have undertaken to protect the human rights of all our citizens, specifically with respect to women's issues and the issue of children.

With police organizations that are trained and well-managed, regional cooperation can be successfully pursued, in terms of policy and operational aspects. It should be borne in mind that the legitimacy of police institutions increasingly calls for citizens to support police work. This is brought about through some of the conditions I’ve suggested; but it is also achieved with well-coordinated, well-connected organizations that are up to speed on what is happening around the world in this arena.

We have to systematize our information even further, through crime observatories that equip us to stay ahead of evolving criminal activities by using foresight and, above all, the ability to share all this information with our law enforcement. The importance of the information that is shared is something we’ve been insisting on since the very first MISPA and, fortunately, I believe we’ve been making some progress in that direction.

In 2009, we established an Inter-American Observatory on Security, under the OAS Secretariat for Multidimensional Security – the first and so far only one of its kind in our region. It can be accessed via the Internet. The Observatory contains official information from the member states of the OAS based on 260 indicators organized into 14 main groups. These indicators provide us with information highlighting gender, age, and ethnic category; and cover all aspects of crime and violence as well as initiatives pursued by states to control and punish them.

Nevertheless, using data collected by the OAS Observatory along with other data provided by the Inter-American Development Bank and other partners working in the subject area, the OAS is seeking to launch an Inter-American Citizen Security Information Network, which will make available to the security authorities of our hemisphere not only data but also reports and statistics, links, and other public security-related resources, to inform the definition of short-, medium-, and long-term policies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends All:

In 2012 – the last year for which the OAS Security Observatory has official data – more than 400,000 people died violent deaths across the hemisphere. More than 3.6 million citizens of the Americas are held in prisons in our countries. Nearly 30 percent of them – more than one million citizens – are convicted of drug-related crimes. And I have to say this is something we verified with the Report on Drugs: many of them are convicted for using a small amount or for minor trafficking. About 200 million people were victims of a crime in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 – that is, more than two-thirds of all kidnappings in the world.

These data illustrate the extent of our problem and the power of our adversary. Even so, these are not an insurmountable problem; neither is the adversary invincible.

Public security is neither utopian nor a pipe dream; what is happening is that it takes hard work, every day, and its increasingly transnational nature calls for much better coordination. I hope you will seize the opportunity of this Meeting to tenaciously pursue these endeavors. Beyond declaring our good intentions, we must deal with and decide on practical and key issues and ensure that this event and these meetings yield solutions that bring about security for our Hemisphere.

Thank you very much.