Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


May 22, 2018 - Washington, DC

Dear Friends,

There are many ways to approach the topic of the situation of Human Rights in the Americas because it is an issue that is linked to a number of factors and approaches that are grounded in the recognition of the dignity of the human person.

Today I want to share with you some reflections based on the following premise: poverty, inequality, social exclusion and a lack of opportunities resulting from intolerance, discrimination and the lack of recognition of wealth and the importance of human diversity, are a serious violation of human rights.

The OAS is an institution founded on the belief that this hemisphere must be ground in a framework of democratic institutions, a system of individual liberty and social justice based on the essential rights of man.

As an institution, we work to build protections and promote respect for human rights, in particular for groups in situations of vulnerability.

Diversity can be our strength, but it is also these differences that can create vulnerability and marginalization as it is for reasons of race, nationality, ethnicity, cultural identity, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity among other characteristics, that individuals have too often been victims of discrimination and are deprived of the full recognition, enjoyment or exercise of their rights.

This kind of discrimination has no place in our Hemisphere, a hemisphere that is characterized by being one of the most diverse regions of the world:

Experts estimate that one third of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is comprised of people of African Descent ; a broad demographic representation that has led some to the proposal that it could be considered the sixth region of the African Union.

There are more than 800 different indigenous peoples, representing approximately 8.5% of the population of Latin America.

Notwithstanding, and despite their significant presence in the countries of the Americas, the majority of these populations continue to live in a vulnerable state, experiencing situations of poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

Inequality in our region not only refers to an unequal distribution of income and wealth, but is shown in various gaps in terms of opportunities, access and quality of goods and services, human development gaps within and between countries.

This affects the effective enjoyment of human rights, especially the most vulnerable to a greater extent.

People who live in poverty and in vulnerable situations suffer the most from these restrictions, ranging from physical, economic and social limitations to exercise their rights, which hinder their access to health services, access to quality education, decent work conditions, to decent housing, to a healthy diet, and to a general sense of well-being.

This only serves to perpetuate their situation of poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion. Violations of human rights on further exacerbate and perpetuate poverty. Creating a vicious cycle from which it is hard to escape.

Latin America and the Caribbean, although not the poorest, remains the most unequal in the world. The persistent realities of social exclusion, and its structural roots, too often nullify the economic, social and cultural rights large parts of the population, and at the same time constitute a barrier to the enjoyment of other human rights, including in countries whose economies are thriving.

The latest data from ECLAC warns that poverty in the region has reached 30.7% in 2017- this is equal to 186 million people.

Extreme poverty has also increased, reaching 10.2% of the population, the equivalent of 62.2 million people, living on less than US $ 1.25 a day .

Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, which, in our continent, includes gender, race and age, and poverty and extreme poverty is higher among the most vulnerable including women, indigenous populations and people of African descent.

Another right that can be violated is that of freedom of worship and religion. And although global studies show that, in general, our hemisphere is in a better position compared to other regions of the world - the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is still real and present.

Anti-Semitism is a problem of civic and tolerant values, and of the erosion of democratic and political culture and institutions.

For the most part, Latin America has been free from anti-Semitism as a form of discrimination promoted by governments or delivered by the State.

There are challenges within society, but the important issues is to see this as a problem of rights in society as a whole.

According to the latest survey of the Anti-Defamation League, only 19% of the surveyed population perceived the anti-Semitic stereotypes raised in their study as real.

However, within the national realities, there are still worrisome situations among Latin American countries, with some country specific cases reaching as high as 52% acceptance of said stereotypes and with 41% incidents that demonstrate inclinations towards intolerance and discrimination on religious grounds.

At all costs, a backslide towards any new manifestation of intolerance must be avoided, hate speech must be repudiated, which can reach such an extreme, as in the recent case of the murder of a Jewish merchant in Uruguay, who died of an anti-Semitic attack in the name of another religion.

An environment with stronger democracies and rule of law, also offers better protection for human rights, greater security and more prosperity for all. More rights means greater protection for religious freedoms and all minority communities

As long as democratic institutions and constitutional mechanisms are robust, and there exists the separation of powers, and an effective and independent judiciary, Jews, and much as any other group, will secure their access to due process.

Important gaps remain between the rights enshrined in the legal instruments of the OAS and the binding commitments of States, on the one hand, and the full, real, and effective enjoyment of those rights, on the other.

It is imperative to address both the inequalities measured by income and inequalities resulting from discrimination.

It is a fundamental priority to protect the population that is in a situation of vulnerability and address the exclusion faced by millions of people who never emerged from income poverty, or from multidimensional poverty.

We must progress in achieving greater equality of rights, more equitable access to opportunities and well-being in order to promote greater social cohesion, translates into a more integrative development and in the consolidation of our democracies

This is the vision of the OAS that I have upheld since taking the office of Secretary General is to precisely respond to this need.

To raise awareness of the challenges that our region continues to face. To reaffirm the common responsibility of all citizens to address them. And to consolidate the role of the Organization as guarantor of rights at regional level.

The effective inclusion of those who have been "left behind" is a concern for all OAS Member States who - in various treaties and instruments of the Inter-American System - have recognized that the full realization of human rights without discrimination, under conditions of equality are fundamental conditions for democracy and development.

In these instruments, States have committed themselves to taking all the necessary actions to reduce poverty and eradicate extreme poverty; eliminate all forms of discrimination and guarantee the full exercise of human rights, and promote citizen participation.

This implies a commitment by all Member States to adopt the necessary measures so that all people are in an economic, social and political situation in which they can enjoy and fully exercise all their rights.

This is why I have to this organization with a motto of "More rights for more people". We must work to close the gaps that still exist between the rights consecrated in the Inter-American juridical instruments and the full, real, and daily enjoyment of those rights.

An important achievement of the OAS and its Member States is the 2013 adoption of the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance.

This is one of the most important initiatives in the last decade. The Convention identifies racism and the causes that give rise to racial discrimination.

It urges States to "prevent, eliminate, prohibit and sanction", the acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and other related forms of intolerance.

It requires access to justice and effective reparation for the victims of these behaviors and creates a mechanism of protection that allows the formulation of petitions before the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

As of today, the 12 countries have signed onto this Convention: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

It is also imperative to come back to the Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted by consensus in September 2001.

The Democratic Charter, the veritable constitution of the Americas, defines the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the essential elements of democracy.

A true democracy implies the separation and independence of the powers, a pluralist regime of parties and the holding of periodic elections, but it also requires mitigating the disparities existing in different areas of society
- in health, at work, in access to justice, in political participation - through the empowerment of historically discriminated groups. It demands equality of conditions.

This Organization will continue, tirelessly, in its efforts to achieve a more democratic, inclusive, and participatory society, alongside its Member States and all citizens of the Americas.

Finally, I would like to invite you to reflect on the impact that each and every one of us can have in the guarantee of the recognition and equal exercise of all the rights of groups in vulnerable situations.

Each one of us has the responsibility in the fight against discrimination, either through the observance of our own attitudes or prejudices, or by collaborating side-by-side with those that represent groups in situations of vulnerability, in order to promote a culture of appreciation of its value and human potential.

To promote self-determination and independence, promoting greater awareness of their rights and contributions.

It is our responsibility to strive to prevent or stop discrimination in any of its forms, to fight for a more just society, where all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age or disability, are respected in equality of conditions in attention to the diversity that characterizes us as human beings, and the shared objective of building a more just and dignified society; a society with more rights for more people.

Thank you,