OAS - Department of Public Information

United against Terrorism 

"Individually and collectively, we will deny terrorists the capacity to operate in this Hemisphere. This American family stands united."   –Hemisphere’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, September 21, 2001

The events of September 11, 2001, brought renewed focus to anti-terrorism efforts in the Americas. On the day of the attacks the hemisphere’s foreign ministers happened to be meeting in Peru to adopt the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and they moved quickly to make the fight against terrorism a priority.

Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, the foreign ministers reconvened at OAS headquarters in Washington for an urgent Meeting of Consultation. They called on the member states to "take effective measures to deny terrorist groups the ability to operate within their territories," and to work together to pursue those responsible for the attacks and bring them to justice, strengthening cooperation in such areas as extradition, mutual legal assistance and information exchange. They directed the OAS Permanent Council to begin drafting a hemispheric anti-terrorism treaty and to convene a meeting of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (known by its Spanish acronym, CICTE).

As then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted, the member states were united not only in resolve, but also in sorrow; in fact, 30 of the 34 countries represented at the OAS lost citizens in the attacks.

Concrete Progress

One major achievement since the 9/11 attacks has been the creation and adoption of a comprehensive treaty to prevent, punish and eliminate terrorism. The Inter-American Convention against Terrorism – which was opened for signature in June 2002, during the OAS General Assembly in Bridgetown, Barbados – seeks to prevent the financing of terrorist activities, strengthen border controls and increase cooperation among law enforcement authorities in different countries, among other measures. It calls terrorism "a serious threat to democratic values and to international peace and security." The treaty, which entered into force in July 2003, has been signed by all 34 member states and ratified by 13: Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

At the OAS Special Conference on Security, held in October 2003 in Mexico City, the member states resolved to increase information exchange and mutual legal assistance to suppress the financing of terrorism, prevent the movement of terrorists and ensure that they face prosecution. They also agreed to work together to identify and combat new threats, including biological terrorism and cyber-crime. "We affirm that terrorism poses a serious threat to security, the institutions, and the democratic values of states and to the well-being of our peoples," they said in the Declaration on Security in the Americas.

CICTE has led efforts to develop concrete hemispheric strategies for confronting the threat of terrorism. In its annual meetings, it has recommended that countries enact a range of measures to strengthen border security, tighten customs controls, and improve the quality of identification and travel documents. Other recommendations have included financial controls to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities. The Declarations of San Salvador (2003), Montevideo (2004) and Port-of-Spain (2005) further underscored the OAS member states' commitment to combating terrorism and its supporters.

At CICTE’s most recent session, held in Trinidad and Tobago in February, the member states said the threat of terrorism is exacerbated by connections with money laundering, illicit trafficking in drugs and arms, and other forms of transnational crime. They said urgent measures are needed to strengthen cooperation and information exchange “with the aim of locating, capturing, prosecuting, and punishing the sponsors, organizers, and perpetrators of terrorist acts, as well as of identifying and freezing assets and resources used to facilitate, promote, or commit such acts.”

At the OAS, CICTE’s technical secretariat has significantly expanded its capacity-building and technical
advisory services to member states. In cooperation with several partners, it has trained over 500 port and airport security officials from 32 countries, to help them meet today’s new security standards for international shipping and civil aviation. It has held courses in port security in Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago, and is planning additional courses in the region. In the last year, CICTE has also advised 22 governments of OAS member states on how to integrate into national legislation the requirements established in international counter-terrorism conventions.

CICTE has also been working with member states to help improve coordination of customs and immigration services at ports and border crossings, a critical line of defense against terrorism. Last year, CICTE and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) helped organize a major symposium in Vancouver, Canada, on how to increase cross-border cooperation in such areas as immigration, law enforcement, customs and justice. Experts from 30 OAS member states shared best practices and identified common challenges. CICTE has also begun a program to help develop professional standards for customs officials, conducting a series of workshops throughout the hemisphere. Another project in the works is the development of a regional network of Cyber-Security Alert Centers to increase safeguards of communications and computer infrastructures. Government experts on computer security from around the Americas met September 14-16 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to further their cooperation in this area.

CICTE has also played a role beyond the region. An active participant in meetings of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), among other organizations, CICTE is considered a model for other regional organizations engaged in counter-terrorism.

Terrorism Not a New Problem

Although September 11 brought a new sense of urgency to the problem, these were not the first terrorist attacks perpetrated in the Americas. In 1992, for example, bombs exploded at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 22 people; two years later, 86 people died in the bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association building. In 1996, the Japanese Embassy in Peru was seized by rebels who held 72 dignitaries for more than four months.

Terrorism is an everyday reality in Colombia. The October 2003 Special Conference on Security expressed its solidarity with the people and government of Colombia "in their fight against terrorism and other destabilizing threats and the defense of their democratic institutions."

In 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a comprehensive Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, which is intended to help legislators and other policymakers develop responses to terrorism that take into account standards established in international law. The Inter-American Convention against Terrorism specifies that measures taken by the states under the treaty "shall take place with full respect for the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms."


Last update: October 2005