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Speeches

NESTOR MENDEZ, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

December 14, 2016 - Ottawa, Canada


Honourable Chair and members of the committee, thank you for having me here today.

In the Americas, we have built a hemisphere on the foundation of a common vision of shared values we believe in, a vision of inclusiveness and multilateralism.

The Organization of American States is the oldest regional
organization in the world, tracing its origins back to 1889 and evolving along with the political, social, and economic developmentof countries throughout the region.

What makes the OAS a unique institution is its clear membership requirements. When joining the OAS, each and every member state chose to negotiate and sign onto a set of documents, a blueprint of sorts, outlining the principles that define who we are, what we believe, and how we interact with each other.

Each of the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter,and the Inter-American conventions on human rights and combatting corruption is an agreement, among others, that includes commitments based on chosen principles of openness, democracy, and cooperation. These agreements created both the incentives to adhere to and mechanisms for enforcing these collective norms to ensure a basic level of well-being for our citizens.

This is a forum that prioritizes dialogue and the rights and wellbeing of citizens. The promise and opportunity of the hemisphere lie in the shared values of the OAS, in which stronger democracies,clearer rule of law, more opportunity, and a more consistent and reliable business environment are the keys to success.

I was elected to this position on a campaign of more rights for more people, and this is now the centrepiece of our engagement. The hemisphere remains one of the most unequal, and its citizens are tired of exclusion. We are weary of racism, persecution, prejudice, and sterile conflicts. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the rights recognized in all of those international agreements are actually made available to the citizens of the hemisphere. We need to ensure that there is more democracy, more rights, more security, and more prosperity for all.

We are at an interesting juncture in modern history. There is a trend in some of the most developed economies, most recently in the United States, to have a growing appetite for some new populist politics. Canada has the opportunity to play a distinct role in this conversation. At a time when there is an increasing trend towards isolationism, Canada has reinforced its commitment to pluralism,openness, and inclusivity, a view, I will point out, that is much
welcomed by your Latin neighbours.

Canada's priorities are in line with those of the majority of the hemisphere—inclusive growth, increasing economic integration, clean energy, and multilateral co-operation.

At the OAS we are fortunate to have had a number of prominent
Canadians work with us. Your current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, used to work at the OAS, as did your committee vice-chair Hélène Laverdière. Your committee colleague Peter Kent, as minister of state for the Americas, also played a key role in the special OAS general assembly convened to analyze the situation in Honduras following the coup against President Zelaya in 2009.

Canada's approach to the region has been unique. You maintained a historically open relationship with Cuba, even when doing so was unpopular. Canada was one of the first observers to the Pacific Alliance. The recent move to lift the visa requirement for Mexican visitors is seen as a public declaration of Canada's openness to Latin America.

With close to 1.5 million people with Latin American and
Caribbean roots living in Canada, this is an occasion to strengthen our already vibrant people-to-people ties. It is also an opportunity to forge new relationships with friends and allies throughout the hemisphere.

Canada has been an important donor and contributor to the OAS
and its activities, and must be thanked for its integral contributions and financial support. However, I would argue that Canada plays a much more important role. Canada is our partner at the OAS. It has been a strong advocate in modernizing the institution and is a leader in our discussions in the permanent council. A strong advocate for
universal freedoms, democracy, and human rights, it was at the 2001 summit of the Americas, hosted in Quebec City, that the idea of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is a true constitution for the Americas, was born.

This was a powerful message. In response, Latin America
welcomes more Canada. This moment offers a real opportunity for Canada to engage.

One of the most important roles the OAS plays in the hemisphere is in facilitating dialogue for the prevention, management, and resolution of crisis and conflict. I commend you that in every major special mission the OAS has conducted—from the long-standing OAS mission to support the peace process in Colombia, to the special mission in Haiti a decade ago, to the recently initiated mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras—Canada has been a leader and strategic partner for the OAS, all its member states, and the people of the Americas. The message is clear that in a world increasingly resistant to intrusion
into domestic affairs, Canada has a strong voice and a distinct position that regional solidarity cannot come at the cost of human rights abuses, undermining democratic institutions, and exclusionary policies.

The good news is that the Latin America that exists today is
radically different from that of a few decades ago. On the whole, we have stronger democratic institutions, greater rule of law, better social protection, and more integrated and open economies. However, there are still some significant challenges undermining growth and stability in the region. The ongoing crisis in Venezuela continues to have a devastating impact on its population. All aspects
of life in the country—humanitarian, social, economic, and political —continue to deteriorate. Dialogue has become a tactic to delay action, and has lost the confidence of the parties as a result.

In Nicaragua, the OAS has been able to enter into a structured dialogue with the government with the expectation that some specific results can be achieved to strengthen the democratic space in that country, giving voice to more people. Our goal is to build the confidence needed for successful dialogue.

The OAS has also proudly been able to support a historic step
forward with the signing of the peace deal in Colombia. Even after the setback of the referendum, all parties were committed to achieving a sustainable outcome. The peace and success achieved is a result of precisely the constructive dialogue that could benefit its neighbours. In Haiti it is this type of meaningful dialogue that will be necessary to resolve the political impasse that we've seen keep the
country at a standstill.

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy do not only
exist when it is convenient, or solely when they reinforce what we want; they must exist always. You have to care as much about your opponent's right to express their view as you do about your own. The ethical and moral values that we define in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and in the charter of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for instance, mean nothing if we do not make them a daily reality for the people of the Americas. Values must come before political interests. When we lose these values, society loses.

When there are violations, we have an obligation to address them. Words are not enough. We must be prepared to act, especially when it is difficult to do so. As Desmond Tutu once famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” There is no small country when you are defending big
principles. All countries can demonstrate their commitment to these ideas.

This organization, this community of states, is vital to ensuring the fullest possible observance of human rights in the hemisphere and is an essential instrument for safeguarding democracy. As the secretary general of the OAS, it is my responsibility to champion and protect these values at the core of this institution and at the very heart of the
Americas.

As secretary general, I must represent governments, but I must also represent a position. I must be a voice for those without a voice,those who are most discriminated against. I must be a voice for those who suffer inequality and who suffer from the lack of protection of their rights. I must be the staunchest defender of those rights.

José Antonio Marina says that the reason our societies fail is that we develop unjust societies. Democracy means nothing if we don't commit to work for democratization every single day. If we don't provide equal access to rights and if we keep our societies in the Americas among the most unequal in the world, we will never be able to achieve the right functioning of democracy. This is the reason I took the post: to meet this commitment to ensure that in the
Americas we can achieve more rights for more people.

I come back to my raison d'être: more rights for more people.
Unequal distribution of income and access to basic goods or services and justice are constant factors that directly affect the full enjoyment of our citizens' political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Human rights are the very core of equality. In affirming that the promotion and protection of human rights is a prerequisite for the
existence of a democratic society, and recognizing the importance of the continued development and strengthening of the inter-American human rights system for the consolidation of democracy, it is incumbent on all of us as politicians, leaders, diplomats, civil society, and citizens of the Americas to achieve greater equality for people. Greater equality will deliver better citizens, and the elimination of
the list of discrimination will deliver better citizens.

There's another challenge that is central to the region's stability and growth, and that is corruption. Besides undermining trust in the government, corruption directly affects the citizens economically. Fighting corruption is a key aspect of the democratic exercise of power that is enshrined in the OAS, and it is a priority for all
member states. This has also been a focus of my term here at the OAS, from the outset. Across the Americas, corruption among politicians has mobilized citizens to take to the streets demanding transparency and the end of corruption and impunity.

In Honduras, the people protested in indignation over government corruption. This is why the bold and ambitious mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras, the MACCIH, was created. The mechanism for follow-up on the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, MESICIC, is another example of a key OAS tool to support strengthening, accountability, and openness among member states. The fact that it includes almost all member states voluntarily participating in the process stands on its own.

Last Friday was International Anti-Corruption Day. Your foreign affairs minister, Mr. Stéphane Dion, stated, “Corruption is a major obstacle to sustainable development and is destructive in all its forms.” I couldn't agree more. Our moral principles mean nothing if we do not fight every day against corruption, and if we do not
address the enormous inequalities our citizens face in access to rights.

Honourable Chair and members of the committee, common values
and a shared commitment to openness, democracy, and co-operation define us a hemisphere. Whether the issue is the defence of human rights, combatting corruption, or working toward peace and reconciliation, these are issues on which we share a common vision in the Americas. This is the role of the Organization of American States: a forum for meaningful dialogue that pushes us forward towards the fulfillment of the vision for our Americas that we all
share, that we have all expressed, and to which we have all
committed ourselves.

Thank you.