Strengthening the Democratic
The Inter-American Democratic Charter sets out a
simple, clear declaration: The peoples of
the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote
and defend it. In 28 articles, this landmark documentadopted on September 11, 2001spells out what democracy entails and specifies how it should be
defended when it is under threat. It gives the governments of the hemisphere a new compass
to guide their collective action when democracy faces challenges.
Why is the Inter-American Democratic
It reflects the current political will of 34 democratic nations.
The Democratic Charter responds directly to a mandate from the presidents and prime
ministers of the Americas, who stated a few months ago in Quebec City that the hemisphere
needed to enhance its ability to respond when democracy is under threat.
It defines, for the first time, what the OAS member countries
agree are the essential elements of democracy.
It establishes procedures to undertake not only when democracy
is completely interrupted, as in a coup, but when it is seriously altered and democracy is
at risk. Because the governments have agreed on the essential elements of democracy, they
have a template from which to evaluate deviations.
It builds on and strengthens the legal underpinnings of
democracy in the hemisphere. Added to the principles and practices that have evolved over
the years within the OAS, the Democratic Charter provides another tool with which to
of the Charter
The initial proposal for an Inter-American
Democratic Charter came from the transitional government of Peru, shortly before the April
2001 Summit of the Americas. In their Declaration of Quebec City, the leaders affirmed
that the shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law is an essential
condition for participation in the Summit process. They underscored the need to
enhance the hemispheres ability to respond when democracy is threatened, and
instructed their foreign affairs ministers to prepare a Democratic Charter to
reinforce OAS instruments for the active defense of representative democracy.
Following the Summit, OAS representatives
developed a working document for consideration by the General Assembly, which held its
annual regular session June 3-5 in San Jose, Costa Rica. The General Assembly approved a
draft, directing the Permanent Council to strengthen and expand it by September. A working
group of the Permanent Council, led by Ambassador Humberto de la Calle of Colombia,
negotiated the final text, taking into account written opinions submitted by governments
as well as by citizens from around the Americas. The OAS invited civil society to
contribute ideas and opinions, and set up a special Web site for this purpose.
On September 6, the Permanent Council approved a
final draft, which was presented to the hemispheres foreign ministers during a
special session of the OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru. The 34 democratic countries of
the Americas signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter on September 11.
Background: Defending Democracy
Charter calls on member states to promote and consolidate representative
democracy. Over the years, the OAS has taken an active role in defending democracy
in member countries, while respecting the principle of nonintervention enshrined in its
founding charter. OAS actions have varied, depending on the situation. In some
casesmost recently in Ecuador and Paraguaythe OAS Permanent Council has
swiftly condemned actions taken against governments and played a role in restoring order.
In Peru, the issue wasnt an armed threat, but divisive elections. At the
governments invitation, the OAS 2000 General Assembly sent a special mission to
Peru, which coordinated a far-reaching dialogue on democratic reform. In Haiti, the OAS
has sought to promote dialogue since the controversial May 2000 elections.
last decade, the OAS has created tools to respond to crises. In 1991, it adopted
Resolution 1080, which provides for an emergency meeting of the hemispheres foreign
ministers to decide on specific collective action when democracy is interrupted.
Resolution 1080 has been a key factor in helping to manage crises in the hemisphere. It
has been invoked on four occasions: Haiti (1991), Peru (1992), Guatemala (1993) and
Protocol of Washington has given the OAS another tool to use in defense of democracy.
Under the terms of the Protocol, which amended the OAS Charter, the Organization has the
right to suspend a member state whose democratically elected government has been
overthrown by force. The Protocol of Washington took effect in September 1997, following
ratification by two-thirds of its signatories.
In Quebec City, the hemispheres leaders
sought to fortify democracy further with a strong democratic clause in the
Summit Declaration and with the instruction to the General Assembly to prepare an
Inter-American Democratic Charter. In Lima, the foreign ministers followed through with
this mandate, further strengthening the region's commitment to democracy.