Media Center



  May 31, 2007

PANAMA CITY, Panama –The President of Panama, Martín Torrijos, and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS>, José Miguel Insulza, opened the Meeting of the Ministers of Education of the Americas on “Education in Human Rights,” taking place within the framework of the OAS General Assembly.

In his remarks, Insulza affirmed that education is the means to cultivate societies capable of developing peaceful solutions to conflicts, political participation that is responsible and informed, and respect for diversity, solidarity and justice. He called for a sustained effort by the countries of the region so that their citizens can not only recognize their rights but also take them to heart as basic principles and values.

“The respect for human rights and the experience of living by democratic principles are not automatically acquired skills: they can and should be developed in the educational arena through a systematic and high-quality education,” Insulza said, who arrived in Panama this afternoon. The Secretary General explained that the OAS has been developing an Inter-American Program on Education in Democratic Values and Practices, and said that at the upcoming session of the OAS General Assembly—which will begin on Sunday 3, in the Panamanian capital—the implementation of this program will be considered, as well as a proposal to incorporate education in human rights into the curriculum for schoolchildren 10 to 14 years old.

The Secretary General provided an overview of the state of human rights in the hemisphere. He referred to the important advances of the last decades—due in part to the leading role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—and stressed the long road that remains to be traveled. Although the region’s governments have shown an increasingly greater commitment to fundamental liberties, “it should be recognized that serious structural weaknesses still exist in the hemisphere’s democratic institutions, which have a negative and severe impact,” Insulza said.

He underscored the problem of violence and crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, referring to the security threats posed by terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, gang violence and crime. “After unemployment, insecurity constitutes the most important threat to democratic governance,” he said, adding that homicide rates in the region are among the highest of the world, with Colombia, Brazil and Jamaica topping the list.

Marginalized and socially disadvantaged sectors of society are also the ones that are particularly affected by violence, Insulza said. He noted in particular the situation of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendents as well as the alarming problem of “femicide” in different countries of the region.

Poverty “has color and gender in Latin American and the Caribbean, and that is a serious and unacceptable human rights problem,” he added.

The Secretary General also warned that fundamental freedoms continue to face risks in several arenas, stressing in particular threats to freedom of expression in the hemisphere. Since the last General Assembly— held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in June 2006—at least 20 people have been killed in the Americas for reasons that could be related to journalistic activity, and four have disappeared, he said.

“The murder of journalists for carrying out their professional work is the most brutal form of curtailing freedom of expression, one of the essential human rights. Journalists and the media play a fundamental role in a democracy,” Insulza stated.

In addition to these problems, he talked about popular discontent in some countries of Latin America. “Such discontent is quite extensive among ordinary people, who nowadays expect their democracies to deliver what until now has been denied to them: sustained and sustainable economic growth, a less unjust distribution of wealth, the elimination of poverty and discrimination, better social services for all, greater security, better access to justice and complete respect for human rights.”

Education is the key to confront these weaknesses, the OAS Secretary General reiterated. “I don’t know a better way to combat poverty, generate jobs and create more opportunities for economic growth,” he said. “I am therefore convinced that our efforts should be directed toward making education the backbone of the region’s development strategy.”

Reference: GA-04-07