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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 66
Año: 1999
Autor: Christopher R. Thomas
Título: The Organization of American States in its 50th Year: Overview of a Regional Commitment

V. The Role of Specialized Organizations and Entities

A review of the Organization’s development, within the Hemisphere, cannot be undertaken in isolation from the specialized organizations and bodies which it spawned; nor from its precursor mechanisms, or its specialized conferences, all of which have played an integral and continuing function in the promotion and shaping of the Organization’s activities and image. For, whereas the Organization was established in 1948, the spirit of Panamericanism, as discussed earlier, first took root in the early nineteenth century. This spirit imbued a wide range of initiatives and gave birth to a number of agencies, bodies, and regional conferences whose programs and actions preceded the Organization and which subsequently, through their complementarity with the Charter principles, became associated with the development of a wider inter-American system. Indeed, the congresses, meetings, and conferences of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were propitious and motivating circumstances for generating a number of regional initiatives for institutionalized inter-American relations. It would not be practical to mention all the related or associated bodies within the context of this review. Brief descriptions of the specialized organizations and other key specialized organs of the Organization, as well as a general overview of the specialized conferences, are outlined below. The list is by no means exhaustive.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was founded in 1902 as a result of the Second International Conference of American States (Mexico City). Its original name, the International Sanitary Bureau, was changed in 1923 to the Pan American Sanitary Bureau by the Fifth International Conference of American States. Later in 1958, the Organization was renamed the Pan American Health Organization at the Fifteenth Pan American Sanitary Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Pan American Health Organization, which is the oldest international health agency, has as its fundamental purposes to promote and coordinate the efforts of the countries of the region of the Americas to combat disease, lengthen life, and promote the physical and mental health of their people. In 1949, the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, as it was then known, undertook by agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) to serve as the regional office of the WHO, and in 1950 the Organization was recognized as a fully autonomous and specialized Inter-American Organization. PAHO is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN) headquartered in Montevideo, was established by the Fourth Pan American Children Congress in Santiago, Chile in 1924 as the American International Institute for the Protection of Childhood. In 1949, the Institute was recognized as a specialized organization within the framework of the Organization of American States and in 1957 it adopted the present name on the revision of its statutes. The Institute has as its main purpose the promotion of all matters relating to childhood, maternity, adolescence, and the family. The Inter-American Children’s Institute has refined the focus of its work over the years in its concentration on strategic areas of child and maternity care, the abandonment of children, and the larger question of the prevention and elimination of child abuse through educational and social programs.

The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) was established by the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana in 1928. The Commission was recognized as a specialized organization in 1953. The purpose of the Commission is the promotion and securement of the civil, political, economic, and social rights of women. Throughout its history the Commission has had notable advances. One of the most significant successes of the Commission is the elaboration of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women which was signed in Belem do Para, Brazil, in 1994 at the twenty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly. The Convention, which is unprecedented within and without the Hemisphere, has since been ratified into law. The Commission is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Pan American Institute of Geography and History (IPGH), which is headquartered in Mexico City, was established by the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana, Cuba, in 1928. In 1949, the Institute became a specialized organization. The main function of the Institute is to provide technical assistance, conduct training at research centers, distribute publications, and organize technical meetings in the areas of cartography, geography, history, and geophysics. The Institute has provided valuable research and data for many member states and agencies within the Hemisphere.

The Inter-American Indian Institute (III) is headquartered in Mexico City and was established by the First Inter-American Conference of Experts on Indian Life in the Americas that was held in Patzcuaro, Mexico, in 1940. The establishment of the Institute had been previously recommended by the Seventh and Eighth International Conferences of American States in Montevideo, (1933) and Lima, (1938). The purpose of the Institute is to promote and coordinate social and economic development programs on behalf of the American Indians. The Institute has devoted its work to a wide area of problems related to the American Indians and has become recognized, inter alia, for its publications in the field of Indian Affairs. In 1953, the Institute became a specialized organization.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) was first established as the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IAIAS) in 1944 in San José, Costa Rica. Earlier attempts to establish an institute dealing with agriculture and industry are recorded from the Fifth International Conference of American States in Santiago de Chile, in 1923. The Institute’s work is aimed at enhancing agricultural production, trade, and institutions among the people who work in the sector. The Institute pursues this through an integrated approach to development based on competitiveness, equity, and solidarity as prime elements in achieving the sustainable development of agriculture particularly in rural areas. The Institute assumed its present name IICA in 1980.

More recently, in response to the increasing menace and corrosive influence of illegal drug traffic and use, the OAS General Assembly established in 1986 the Inter-American Commission on Drug Abuse Control (CICAD). CICAD’s purposes include the development of the Inter-American Information Center for the use of member states and private organizations; an inter-American network for national, regional, and sub-regional information; standardized data collection, and inter-American training centers. Through its activities, it concentrated on the following aspects of the fight against illicit substances: legal legislation, education for prevention, community initiatives, information collection, and transfer of inter-American statistics. The work of the Commission has been of invaluable assistance to member states in the continuing struggle by the region’s membership, individually and collectively, against all aspects of the illicit use of drugs and psychotropic substances. One of the most important achievements of the Commission has been its elaboration of the Hemispheric Anti-drug Strategy, which was adopted by consensus by the Organization’s membership in Montevideo, in 1996.

In 1993 the OAS General Assembly established the Inter-American Commission on Telecommunications (CITEL). This decision was based on the recognition of the increasing importance of communication within the context of globalization of trade and services and the need to harmonize and enhance the regional capability and capacity in this field. The stated objectives of CITEL range from advising on telecommunication matters, facilitating and promoting telecommunications in the Hemisphere, organizing and sponsoring meetings of technicians and experts in every area of telecommunications, to promoting the adoption of uniform technical standards of telecommunications in the Americas consonant with International Telecommunications Union mandates. CITEL also recommends studies in particular areas and promotes the adoption of official agreements among member states. It considers all legal aspects related to the field and responds to General Assembly and Permanent Council mandates related to inter-American cooperation in the field. Prior to its creation as a specialized organ in 1993, CITEL had been a specialized Inter-American Conference under Article 122 of the OAS Charter.

In the context of the work and development of the Organization, and in the organic growth and evolution of a wider inter-American system, the roles and contribution of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) have been specifically mentioned elsewhere. One might also mention here the Inter-American Peace Committee (IAPC), the Inter-American Statistical Institute (IASI), the Special Consultation Committee on Security (SCCS) and the former inter-American centers in the economic, social, and cultural areas as local historic outreaches of the Organization to member states. A decision was taken by the Organization in 1997 to close those centers effective January 1, 1998.

There has been considerable overlap between the initiatives of the Organization and its precursor conferences in the establishment of specialized organizations and specialized conferences. Carlos Stoetzer, in his work The Organization of American States records that “Specialized Conferences had already been held since the beginning of the inter-American system; some had been convoked by the regular inter-American conferences, others were held in view of some action by other bodies of the inter-American system.”10 Stoetzer further records that “the more the Inter-American System advanced, the more it branched out into a variety of technical fields of mutual interest. Thus at the time of the Ninth Inter-American Conference of American States, there had been specialized conferences that had dealt with many different technical subjects on a periodic basis and had established a well-deserved legitimacy that could not be ignored. Hence, the Charter codified this experience and included the specialized conferences in Articles 93 and 94”11 of the Charter of 1948.

Notwithstanding this codification of the Charter, there was a need to define and differentiate specialized conferences. The Council of the OAS accordingly adopted in 1962 a report on Standards for inter-American conferences, which defined specialized conferences as intergovernmental, technical, and of common interest.12 In accordance with those definitional criteria, the span of specialized conferences covered health, travel, telecommunications, children, highways, sanitation, Indian questions, tourism, harbors and ports, statistics, water, economics, and legal questions including the Law of the Sea.

The Specialized Conferences, as mentioned earlier, began before the establishment of the Organization and have continued into the present time. They were largely technical in nature and complemented in many respects the function and purposes of the specialized organizations and the other bodies, agencies, and commissions of the system and the Organization. They differed from the specialized organization in that they were selective in orientation, involved a defined subject area, responded to a stated demand condition, circumstance or objective, and were specific in recommendation and thrust. In that respect they served both as the practical articulation of the goals and purposes of the specialized organizations as well as the translation of their objectives into concrete focuses of implementation. The modern counterparts of these specialized conferences are, undoubtedly, the Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, 1996); the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Terrorism, (Lima, Peru, 1996); the specialized conference on the Draft Inter-American Convention against Corruption (Caracas, Venezuela, 1996); the high-level meeting on the Special Security Concerns of Small Island States (San Salvador, El Salvador, February 1998); the Regional Conference on Confidence and Security- Building Measures (San Salvador, El Salvador, February 1998); and the meeting of Government Representatives on Electoral Campaign Contributions (Caracas, Venezuela, February 1998).

The specialized organizations, conferences, agencies, and commissions have provided an important dimension to the work of the Organization. They have been important vehicles in fleshing out and deepening the hemispheric agenda. They have constituted an open-ended mechanism through which the dynamics of the region have accelerated in relation to a comprehensive range of concerns, interests, and priorities. Their contribution to the present time is consistent with the spirit and intent of Article 52 of the OAS Charter which states:

There may be established, in addition to those provided for in the Charter and in accordance with the provisions thereof, such subsidiary organs, agencies, and other entities as are considered necessary.13

The open-ended focus and approach to the Organization’s work provided through that article has been a constant in generating a process of regional advancement and has served to inform and effect fundamental changes in the engagement of new priorities and circumstances in the Organization’s fifty-year experience.