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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs > Releases > Remarks, Testimony > 2001 > September

The OAS Special Assembly and the Inter-American Democratic Charter

Roger Francisco Noriega , Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Remarks to the Press
Washington, DC
September 7, 2001

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Good afternoon, it's a pleasure to be here. The topic I am here to discuss is the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which has been refined in the last few weeks since the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in San Jose. The charter text was actually approved by the OAS Permanent Council yesterday, and it has been obviously referred for ratification by the foreign ministers at a Special General Assembly, which will be held in Lima September 10th and 11th. Secretary Powell will head the U.S. delegation.

Copies of the text of the charter, as approved, and which will be presented to the foreign ministers for their ratification, for their final approval, have been made available to you in English and Spanish.

Let me just start out by explaining that fundamentally this document flatly asserts that the peoples of the Americans have a right to democracy, and that an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order, or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to that government's participation in the inter-American system.

Now, lest you be put off by that rhetoric, even if you read the fine print, I think you will be impressed. But even -- but I don't want you to miss the fact that we are asserting in Article 19 that an interruption on alteration that seriously impairs the democratic order constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to participation in the inter-American system. Articles three and four define the terms of reference here. It defines the essential elements of representative democracy -- that is to say the democratic order -- in very specific and inclusive terms, including the following: respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to and the free exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; and holding of periodic free and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage; pluralistic systems of political parties and organization; separation of powers and independence of the branches of government; freedom of expression and of the press; and constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority.

So I think you might agree that this is a rather inclusive definition of those essential elements that are recruited from those that makes up a democratic order that is defended in this charter.

The document allows any member state, or the secretary general of the Organization of American States, to trigger a response by the OAS, calling for the immediate convocation of a meeting of the Permanent Council to consider the facts, to deploy diplomatic efforts, or to use other political mediation to address the problem. This is spelled out in Article 21.

If there is a clear interruption of the democratic order, or if an undemocratic alteration is not remedied, the charter that we will approve in Lima calls for a General Assembly that may among other things suspend the offending government from the inter-American system, which requires, as is the case in the current charter, a two-thirds vote of the member states. That's found in Article 21 of this Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Now, this charter contemplated a gradual, measured response to a political crisis. It does not prescribe a cookie-cutter approach as we would say in English, and it does not rush to suspend a member state. In fact, the dissuasive influence and the proactive remedial measures in addressing the crisis under this charter are perhaps the most important elements. Moreover, the absolute commitment to strengthen democratic institutions is over the long term and to nurture those democratic roots are perhaps just as important as the idea of responding to a crisis once one occurs. Averting a crisis by strengthening democratic institutions and dissuading a constitutional interruption I would suggest is just as important as responding to an event, if one should occur in the future.

Moreover, this is a political document, and how it will be applied will depend on the fact set of each individual crisis and on the collective judgment of the member states. Let me make a couple of closing comments to describe the environment in which this is negotiated, a very transparent process. Since the meeting in San Jose, there has been consultation with non-governmental organizations, civil society if you will, for many weeks -- a systematic reaching out by the organization and its member states to solicit views from civil society on how to strengthen the charter. As a result, I think it is stronger. It's the product of a thorough debate and discussion, and it is the product of consensus. Most of you know that that's the way the OAS does business, by consensus. And this approval is not one where we don't have 18 to 16 votes represented in this text. This is a consensus text. And I think what's important about that is it shows the vigorous commitment that the member states have to defending democracy and human rights and the rule of law. And since it is by consensus, I think it also shows a commitment that will be effective.

In closing, this is multilateralism that works. And our commitment, the U.S. commitment to this process, typifies our cooperative bipartisan approach in the Americas, where we rather than pursuing the lowest common denominator are looking for way to promote the highest common values. And I think this democratic charter demonstrates that collective will on the part of the member states of the OAS. With that I'll stop and answer any questions that you might have about the particulars of the charter.

MODERATOR: We'll start here in the middle. Wait for the microphone. Identify your name and news organization.

Q: I am told that Venezuela has some resistance to approve this charter as it has been presented. Can you comment on that, and do you think that from today up to Tuesday I think is the meeting, there could be a change?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Well, I want to stress that every member state around the table -- 34 member states -- participated in the debate of the working group in the last several weeks in refining this document. And Venezuela participated vigorously. Jamaica participated vigorously. The United States did as well, as well as Argentina. Every member state had some constructive to add to the process. The decisions here reflect the consensus of these member states. What is -- we have had particular specific conversations with the Venezuelan delegation on this issue, and the visit of the foreign minister, Davila, gave us an opportunity to hear first-hand their commitment to this process. So I don't want to characterize in any particular way one country's commitment to this over another's. But I will say that Venezuela participated fully and constructively in this process. And what you see before you is a consensus document.

Q: Would an undemocratic state be suspended just from the OAS or from the presidential summit process, negotiations of the FTAA or the FTAA itself once it comes into existence?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: This particular charter speaks of the inter- American system in the bodies and conferences of the inter- American system. But I hasten to add that if you review the summit statement from Quebec, it was explicit that such a democratic -- I'm sorry, interruption in democratic order -- would be an obstacle to a country's participation in the summit process. There is some inference being made about their participation in the FTAA process. That FTAA is still being negotiated. It will remain to be seen how explicit they are in the actual document itself. But the spirit of this is that the American community is -- the inter-American community is a community where the organizing principle is representative democracy, and that's very explicit not only in the Quebec summit but now in very specific terms in the Inter-American Democratic Charter that we'll approve in Lima.

Q: I understand that in the negotiations there were some problems regarding mentioning directly the system of the protection of human rights, the inter-American system, and that the U.S. was, along with Canada and the Caribbean, the countries that opposed to mention it directly. So the final solution was to mention it only in the prologue and not in the resolution part. I would like to know what the U.S. position is on that. And also I would like to -- another question is: What would you mention as a concrete specific contribution of the NGO or the civil society to this project?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: On your second question, I met with representatives of non-governmental organizations several weeks ago as we were still working on this, and their interest was in ensuring that there was a role for consultations with civil society in the context of making decisions under the charter. Clearly the non-governmental organizations, in the free exercise of their rights, are enshrined as an essential element of democracy in the charter. But as to specific points that were proposed by them, I -- frankly I am not able to point to specific ones. I think that their participation was fulsome in the process. And I think that some of the views that member states brought to the process and suggested were actually inspired in very explicit terms by their own non-governmental organizations. But as the member states present them, they don't necessarily say this was an idea that came to us from a non-governmental organization, but it is my distinct impression that that is the case. So some of the ideas that were tabled by the various delegations were explicitly inspired I know by consultation with non-governmental organizations.

On your second point, I don't want to get into the details of the drafting, but I am not going to avoid your question either. Our policy with respect to the human rights -- protection of human rights -- is very clear, as is Canada's and the Caribbean states that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights. But our defense of human rights and our support for the inter-American human rights system is really unsurpassed. And the U.S. -- the United States makes that very clear, that we are absolutely committed to the success and to the vigor of the inter-American human rights system.

As we have not ratified the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights for our own reasons, and as other countries haven't for their own reasons, we did not feel comfortable making certain assertions about things being indispensable to the protection of human rights that we haven't undertaken. I am just trying to be very practical with you. If we felt, and we were going to solemnly proclaim something or another was absolutely indispensable to the protection of human rights, then we wouldn't have taken those things. So we wanted to be -- frankly wanted to be -- didn't want to be hypocritical in what we expressed in the charter. Again, what you see there is a product of consensus, and our commitment to the inter-American human rights system is very strong, notwithstanding the fact that we haven't ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.

Q: The United States, and in fact the majority of the countries, were ready to sign the draft that was taken to San Jose. However, now most ambassadors I have spoken with about this, they are telling me that this is a superior document and it was much improved over -- was going to support -- be approved in San Jose. Do you agree with this? Is this a superior document? And how do you explain that the United States was ready to sign over there but now actually participated in the --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: It's a very good question. It's a richer document, Jose, by all means. It's -- it is -- the reluctance of some countries to give final approval in San Jose was more than anything I think the necessity of consulting not only with their governments but with civil society, and we have done that. And so the intervening time has actually produced, I think, a richer document, a more explicit document. I think in certain ways it's clearer in how it would function. And I think it has evolved. And I am sure your first drafts are not always the ideal, and in this particular case I think we have produced a richer document not only because of the time to contemplate, but because of the active consultation with civil society, and this very broad-based participative debate that took place at the OAS over the last several weeks.

MODERATOR: Let me just ask -- we're coming down to our last few minutes -- is there anyone who will want to make a question in Spanish? Then we'll just continue in English.

Q: You say it's a richer document than what you had before. Can you give some examples? Is it just a matter of the wording that has been improved, or are there some concrete examples you can give of how it's been improved? And, also, is this document still subject to change, or will this basically have an up-or-down vote in Lima?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: The -- I think the most -- an area where we made the -- some explicit improvements is chapter four, strengthening and preservation of democratic institutions -- so- called democracy clause. I think that as you see that it is a prescription for a gradual approach, tending to weaknesses in the democratic institutions where they occur, you know, giving member states an opportunity to ask for support for the democratic institutions -- in other words, maintaining and strengthening the roots of democracy, and committing the organization to doing that in a systematic way. And then the gradual approach about how you would deal with the emerging crises. So you have I think a much more logical framework for dealing with these crises. And I think it's clearer that we're -- that isn't a document that is intended to sanction countries. As a matter of fact we would consider it most unfortunate, if you ever reached the final recourse of having to suspend a member state. I think that would be a real shame. But the care that was taken in the last several weeks -- really the last several months -- produces a document where we commit ourselves to preventing that kind of a crisis from occurring in the first place. And I just want to make -- I mean, I think that is the most important thing. So if you go and look at the original democracy clause and how this mechanism process appears now, I think you will find that it is one where we are not just talking about suspension or applying some sanctions, but the necessity of heading off crises and protecting crises -- offering affirmative, proactive help to overcome crises and address -- and help countries through political problems is enshrined in the document. I think it's a much more productive tool for those reasons.

Q: (Inaudible)

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I'm sorry, that's a very important question. Well, ministers of foreign affairs have a funny way of deciding for themselves what is or is not subject to change. But the expectation is that given the fact that you had ample -- that member states have had ample opportunity to consult with their capitals on this subject that this reflects the will of the capitals, and that the intention in Lima is to approve this document as it reads now. I would -- I wouldn't say -- I wouldn't be in a position under any circumstances to say that there won't be some changes, but the expectation is that it will be approved as you read it here. So --

Q: Fox announced today that Mexico is considering very seriously to abandon the TR. I was wondering what do you think about it and what is the U.S. position. Fox says that the main concern is that it is obsolete -- that it didn't work during the (unclear), and he said that in 60 days they are going to announce what they are going to do. But we would like to know what do you think about Mexico's position, and what is the U.S. position on this.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Well, I'll address this only inasmuch as he made this comment to the OAS, and it's about an issue in the inter-American system. The Quebec summit and the summit process in general as directed the OAS to undertake an examination of the architecture of the security system in the Americas, and obviously the United States is going to participate fully along with Mexico and the other member states in that review. The first working sessions of that will be undertaken later this year, and we plan for a meeting in 2004. Mexico has offered apparently to be the site of that initial conference. So that's the position. We, the United States, we see this as wholly consistent with the summit process where the heads of state committed themselves to undertaking this review. This is part of that process, and we'll be participating with them. I think one of the most important aspects of this is it demonstrates the relevance of the OAS and the fact that the summit processes, given these very timely mandates to the OAS -- and we are ahead of the curve in dealing with the issues that President Fox raised today at the OAS.

MODERATOR: We have time for one final question. Okay, we'll go back up front.

Q: (Inaudible) -- the question from Ana about the - (inaudible)- does the United States really think that the inter-American reciprocal assistance treaty is actually obsolete already or not? What's your position about the treaty itself?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I gave the answer that I wanted to give on that, Jose, which is that we're committed to the review. And just as President Bush stated, along with the other heads of state in Quebec, we're committed to the review and we are going to participate in that review along with all the other member states of the OAS.

I'm going to take one last question.

Q: Thank you. I was wondering if you could comment on the arrest or the detention of the formal security officer from Cuba in Miami and the comment by Fidel Castro as what the only way the United States can get rid of Cuba is to launch a bomb there. Do you consider Fidel Castro as democratic?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Well, I won't have any comment, absolutely not, on the first part of your question. I think by the essential elements of democracy that I described here, which I think -- what's important is it represents a consensus of the inter-American system and the member states of the OAS that Cuba under Fidel Castro absolutely is not a democracy, and as such its government is not considered legitimate under this inter-American charter. If you read the document here explicitly, you'll understand that member states are committed to representative democracy with these essential elements, and Fidel Castro's Cuba today is absolutely not a democracy as contemplated by the member states of the OAS.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. We are out of time now. Thank you.


Released on September 7, 2001

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