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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

II. Programs of the General Secretariat on Democracy, Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Drug Control

i. The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy

The pursuit of democracy as a political culture of the region and the Organization’s efforts in its consolidation, led to the establishment of a Unit for the Promotion of Democracy within the Secretariat. The creation of that function was an initiative of the Government of Canada, which advocated a wider and necessary role for the Organization in interaction with governments in strengthening the democratic process. The Unit was established in 1990 within the administrative structure of the Secretariat. The Unit’s mandates and functions are comprehensive and involve collaboration with governments in many areas of institution building, civic education, the strengthening of political processes, election observation, and the refinement of democratic governance.

The value of the work of the Unit has been well recognized and its services have been very useful to member governments.  Within the short time of its operations, it has created and secured a most useful space and credibility in the Organization’s collaborative management of the political regional function.  In the area of electoral observation, the Unit has to date monitored forty elections in a number of states and has been publicly credited for its contribution to the democratic outcome of those processes.  Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the monitoring function of the Unit has been its observance of the elections in the Dominican Republic in 1994. As a result of the Unit’s objective observation of those elections and its courageous representation to the incumbent government on irregularities in the conduct of the elections, the Unit was invited by all parties to mediate in a crisis solution.  The Unit managed that function with great success and the incumbent government in spite of its declared victory, agreed to reduce its new term of office from four years to two years.  The Organization was accordingly most pleased to witness the new era of democracy which ensued in 1996 following the subsequent elections in that country.

In the field of demining, the Organization, through the Unit for Democracy, has effectively bolstered the restoration of the democratic process throughout Central America. Its demining program that involves both a political commitment to democracy as well as an equally significant socio-economic national rehabilitation program of objectives, has covered the countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and, more recently, Guatemala. Approximately 28,000 mines have been destroyed since operations began in 1993 at a cost of six million dollars. The program has benefited from contributions from Germany, Canada, Denmark, Spain, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Holland, Honduras, Japan and Sweden. The Organization has targeted completion of the demining operations by the end of the year 2000 and the consequent establishment of the Central American region as a “land mine free zone” at the close of the present millennium. The larger political thrust of the Organization’s efforts in this regard has been the development of a resolution initiated and piloted by the delegation of Saint Lucia in 1997, whose provisions would abolish the sale, purchase, and use of anti-personal mines within the region. The resolution was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly of the Organization by consensus. In the specific activities of demining, the Organization has been supported, consolidated and strengthened by the valuable collaboration of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), an agency associated with the Organization.

Many member states have benefited from the Unit’s work in the area of institution building and the strengthening of democratic processes. This function has extended from seminars, courses, and conferences sponsored by the Unit or in collaboration with other agencies.  In many cases it has served to identify areas of weaknesses, which required radical remedial as well as preemptive action. A good example of this is the conference—in Barbados, in September 1997—on Governance, Democracy, and Civil Society in the Caribbean Community in which the Organization, through the Unit, collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank, CARICOM Secretariat, United Nations Development Program, and the University of the West Indies.  The Conference identified a number of weaknesses in the judicial, electoral, and civic processes of the region that posed serious threats to the democratic governance of the region. One of the conclusions of the conference is that reform of the electoral systems is very much needed particularly with a view to eliminating some less desirable aspects of the current models. The findings of the conference as well as the experiences of the Unit have led to the establishment of an association of Caribbean electoral officials that convened its first assembly on March 30, 1998. The Charter, which the Assembly adopted, was signed by fifteen countries. The General Secretariat will serve as joint interim secretariat with the International Foundation of Electoral Systems until the final installation of a permanent secretariat for the Association in the Caribbean. The Association is expected to pool its experiences in furtherance of the strengthening of the democratic processes within the region. There are a host of other dimensions and requirements in which the Organization, through the Unit for Democracy, can collaborate with the member states of the Hemisphere.

Experience suggests the need for two structural adjustments to the Unit.  One is the development of a research and analysis function; the other is the streamlining of the political machinery in the overall direction and discharge of that function. This function and its implications will be subsequently addressed.

ii. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued fifteen advisory opinions and has adjudicated more than twenty contentious cases resulting in indemnities for victims by the states concerned. In an effort to provide the Inter-American Human Rights Courts with the Maximum authority permitted under the Inter-American Human Rights Convention and the Court’s statutes, the Secretary General entered into an agreement with the Court in 1997, which allows the Court to maintain its own staff apart from the General Secretariat and requires the Court to assume sole responsibility for the execution of its budget.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has undertaken more than seventy reports in twenty member states and has received and processed almost twelve thousand individual petitions. The Commission has received renewed mandates in recent years relating to the institutionalization of civil society, democratization, and the need for increasing vigilance over the rights of the mentally or physically challenged, indigenous peoples, women, and other disadvantaged minorities in the Hemisphere. To address these mandates, the General Assembly has approved  additional resources for the Commission which have enabled it to expand its staff and scope of operation.

iii. The Secretariat for Legal Affairs

The strengthening and development of international law is one of the main concerns of the Secretariat. The OAS Secretariat for Legal Affairs has, over the years, made significant progress in the elaboration and improvement of juridical norms which govern relations among the nations of the Hemisphere and which have impacted also on the wider global juridical process. The Secretariat for Legal Affairs   has provided technical support to the work of member states in the promotion and defence of democracy as well as in the development of conventions and treaties that touch on all the issues of importance to the Organization including human rights, international security, terrorism, the Inter-American  Program for the Development of International Law, and the Codification of Private International Law. The Secretariat for Legal Affairs has also contributed to the most recent OAS Charter reforms.

In May 1996, the Secretary General restructured the Secretariat for Legal Affairs. Prior to May 1996 the Secretariat for Legal Affairs contained two principal departments: The Department of Development and Codification of International Law and the Department of General Legal Services. In May 1996, the Department of General Legal Services was moved to the Office of the Secretary General. That department attends principally to the operational legal work of the Organization -Legal representation, litigation, privileges and immunities, administrative law, and related advisory services. The motive of this change was to free the  Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs and his staff from the day to day operational legal concerns of the Organization so that they could dedicate the Secretariat’s efforts exclusively to developing and maintaining an effective inter-American legal program. To that end, the old Department of Development and Codification of International Law was abolished and replaced by two more specialized departments: The Department of International Law and the Department of Cooperation and Legal Dissemination. The Legal Secretariat has since provided significant support to the Permanent Council and Specialized meetings in developing legal instruments to address the questions of corruption and terrorism in the Hemisphere. It has also conducted a series of training seminars in the area of the administration of justice and is providing technical support to the newly established Specialized Meetings of Ministers of Justice of the member states.

iv. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission(CICAD):

The establishment of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), in 1986, resulted in the creation of an executive secretariat for CICAD under an executive secretary. The contributions of CICAD have already been described. It is necessary here, however, to emphasize that in addition to serving the member states in their fight against drugs, the Executive Secretariat has an effective integrative function within the wider secretariat. CICAD also carries  out joint initiatives in the area of demand reduction with the Inter-American Children’s Institute, and the Pan American Health Organization. In response to the mandates of the Summit of the Americas (Santiago, Chile, 1998) the member states are negotiating the establishment, within CICAD, of a multilateral evaluation mechanism to increase inter-American cooperation in the fight against drugs. The Executive Secretariat would provide support services for such a mechanism.