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Fact Sheet
U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States
Washington, DC
April 8, 2008

Organization of American States

Established: April 14, 1890, as the International Union of American Republics. Became the Pan American Union in 1910, then the Organization of American States in 1948 with the adoption of the OAS Charter in Bogotá, Colombia.

Purposes: To strengthen peace and security in the hemisphere; promote representative democracy; ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes among members; provide for common action in the event of aggression; and promote economic, social, and cultural development.

Members: 35—Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba*, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

*Cuba is a member, although its present government has been excluded from participation since 1962 for incompatibility with the principles of the inter-American system.

Permanent observers: 60—Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Yemen.

Official languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Principal organs: General Assembly, Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers, Permanent Council, Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the General Secretariat.

Specialized organizations: Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN), Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII), Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Other entities: Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD), Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Justice Studies Center, Inter-American Juridical Committee (IAJC), Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), Inter-American Defense College (IADC), Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

The Organization of American States, the oldest regional international organization in the world, traces its origins to the Congress of Panama, convoked by Simon Bolivar in 1826 and attended by representatives from Central and South America. That congress drafted the Treaty of Perpetual Union, League and Confederation, signed by the delegates but ratified only by Gran Colombia (today's Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela).

Hemispheric countries continued the discussion of an inter-American system during the rest of the 19th century. The first concrete step was taken in 1889, when the First International Conference of American States convened in Washington, DC. On April 14, 1890, delegates created the International Union of American Republics "for the prompt collection and distribution of commercial information." They also established the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics in Washington as the Union's secretariat, with the participation of 18 Western Hemisphere nations, including the United States. In 1910, the Commercial Bureau became the Pan American Union, and American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $5 million to construct a permanent headquarters in Washington, DC, which is today the historic OAS building on 17th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW.

The experience of World War II convinced hemispheric governments that unilateral action could not ensure the territorial integrity of the American nations in the event of extra-continental aggression. To meet the challenges of global conflict in the postwar world and to contain conflicts within the hemisphere, they adopted a system of collective security, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro.

The OAS Charter was adopted at the Ninth International Conference of American States in Bogotá, Colombia in 1948. It reaffirmed the fundamental rights and duties of states, proclaimed the goals of the new organization, and established its organs and agencies. That conference also approved the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogotá) and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The OAS Charter proclaims the organization to be a regional agency within the UN system.

The basic objectives of the OAS, as laid out in its Charter, are to strengthen peace and security; promote the effective exercise of representative democracy; ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes among members; provide for common action in the event of aggression; seek solutions to political, juridical, and economic problems that may arise; promote, by cooperative action, economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural development; and limit conventional weapons so as to devote greater resources to economic and social development.

Concern over slow economic development led the United States and 19 other OAS members to establish the Inter-American Development Bank in 1959. This reflected concern that the World Bank, which included Latin American countries in its list of eligible borrowers, was preoccupied with infrastructure and not sufficiently attuned to the need for "social" lending as well as industrial and agricultural aid. In 1960, the OAS adopted the Act of Bogotá, which called for a hemisphere-wide commitment to economic and social development. This set the stage for OAS support for the Alliance for Progress.

The 1948 OAS Charter has been amended four times: by the 1967 Protocol of Buenos Aires, which went into effect in February 1970; by the 1985 Protocol of Cartagena, which took effect in November 1988; by the 1993 Protocol of Managua, which took effect in March 1996; and by the 1992 Protocol of Washington, which took effect in September 1997.

The Buenos Aires Protocol created the annual General Assembly and gave equal status to the Permanent Council; the Economic and Social Council; and the Council for Education, Science, and Culture. The Cartagena Amendments strengthened the role of the Secretary General; provided procedures to facilitate peaceful settlement of disputes; removed obstacles, involving border disputes, to the entry of Belize and Guyana; and called for strengthening economic and social development by taking measures to increase trade, enhance international financial cooperation, diversify exports, and promote export opportunities.

The Managua Protocol created the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) to replace the Economic and Social Council and the Council for Education, Science, and Culture. The key objectives of CIDI are to serve as a forum for technical policy-level discussions on matters related to development, to be a catalyst and promoter of development activities in response to mandates from the Summits of the Americas, and to strengthen a hemispheric partnership among OAS countries to promote cooperation for development and to help eliminate extreme poverty in the hemisphere.

Ratification of the Washington Protocol made the OAS the first regional political organization to permit suspension of a member whose democratically constituted government is overthrown by force. This protocol also amended the OAS Charter to include the eradication of extreme poverty as one of the organization's essential purposes.

The OAS helps preserve democracy by mobilizing the hemisphere in the face of threats to democratic rule. It acted under the mandate of General Assembly Resolution 1080 (1991) to support democracy in Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, and Paraguay. It also provides development and other assistance designed to strengthen democratic institutions, observe elections, promote human rights, increase trade, fight drugs, and protect the environment.

On September 11, 2001, the OAS adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, designed to strengthen and preserve representative democracy in the hemisphere. The Democratic Charter prescribes steps to be taken in the event of an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or the unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order of a member state.

The OAS was the first international organization to condemn the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. In 2001-02, as a hemispheric response against terrorism, OAS members successfully negotiated the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism (CICTE), which was opened for signature at the June 2002 OAS General Assembly. It entered into force on July 9, 2003, and provides for increased law enforcement cooperation against terrorism.

In recent years, OAS member states have successfully negotiated major international agreements to curb hemispheric arms trafficking, provide for transparency in conventional weapons acquisition, combat corruption, fight narcotics and money laundering, and define fair telecommunications standards. OAS contributions in the fields of international law, juridical cooperation, and facilitation of regional trade have been substantial and have provided the basis for effective observance of a host of regional treaties concluded since 1889. Information on treaties, conventions, and other inter-American legal instruments is available from the Secretariat of Legal Affairs at the OAS website at http://www.oas.org.

The OAS is implementing important portions of the Action Plans from the Summits of the Americas held in Miami (1994); Santiago, Chile (1998); Quebec City, Canada (2001); and Mar del Plata, Argentina (2005), as well as a Special Summit in Monterrey, Mexico (2004). The Santiago Summit assigned the OAS Secretariat responsibility for maintaining records and serving as the institutional memory of the summit process. The Mar del Plata summit focused on the theme of "Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance." The OAS Secretariat's website is http://www.summit-americas.org.

The United States is committed to strengthening and working with the OAS, the premier multilateral forum for dealing with political issues in the Western Hemisphere. This reflects the U.S. Government's determination to promote a program of multilateral engagement to resolve regional problems that threaten the democratic and economic security of the peoples of the Americas, and to reinforce our bilateral and multilateral relationships with our hemispheric neighbors and between our shared hemispheric agenda and the rest of the world.

The promotion of peace, democracy, and good governance are core OAS concerns. The OAS adopted the flagship Inter-American Democratic Charter on September 11, 2001, in the shadow of the terrorist attacks against the United States.

Article 1 states: "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."

The Democratic Charter defines the essential elements of representative democracy in very specific terms, including: respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; holding free and fair elections; a pluralistic system of political parties and organizations; separation of powers; 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.

In the event that one of the OAS members should fail to uphold the essential elements of democratic life, the Democratic Charter allows a member state or the Secretary General to request an immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to consider the facts, deploy diplomatic efforts, or use other political mediation. If there is a clear interruption of democratic order, or if an undemocratic alteration is not remedied, the document calls for a General Assembly that may, among other things, suspend the offending government from the inter-American system, which requires a two-thirds vote of the member states.

At the 2005 OAS General Assembly—hosted by the United States for the first time since 1974 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida under the theme "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy"—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated: "The Democratic Charter must become the core of a principled, effective multilateralism for the Americas. Together, we must insist that leaders who are elected democratically have a responsibility to govern democratically."

The Declaration of Florida and Resolutions 2154, adopted at the 2005 General Assembly, mark an important multilateral commitment to advance the hemisphere's democratic agenda. Building on previous achievements of the inter-American community to address threats to democracy—Resolution 1080, the Washington Protocol and the Quebec Summit—the declaration and the accompanying resolution empower and give the Secretary General a new mandate to develop initiatives for regional cooperation to strengthen implementation of the Democratic Charter in order to proactively address threats to democracy. This mandate was reaffirmed at the 2006 and 2007 General Assemblies.

In recent years, the OAS has invoked Resolution 1080, the Washington Protocol, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on multiple occasions to support representative democracy in situations where democratic practices or institutions have been challenged in OAS member states. With each new crisis, the OAS has strengthened its resolve to find peaceful, constitutional solutions to key political crises in the hemisphere.

The OAS has become the leading Election Observation organization in the hemisphere since its first 1990 mission to Nicaragua. The Organization has successfully observed presidential, legislative, regional and special elections throughout the hemisphere. Representing a multilateral organization, OAS observers are often able to establish closer relationships with and gain greater access to political and electoral institutions than other observer groups. The OAS, in addition, has the institutional capacity to organize larger electoral missions and keep observers on the ground longer than other organizations.

In 2006, the newly formed OAS Secretariat for Political Affairs (SPA), led by former Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo, wholly committed to a tripartite program of democracy promotion, good governance, and crisis prevention in the hemisphere. The SPA consists of a tripartite division into a Department for the Promotion of Democracy, Department for the Promotion of Governance, and a Department for Crisis Prevention and Special Missions.

The Secretariat for Political Affairs coordinates the OAS electoral missions, develops projects to consolidate democratic governance through cooperative work with legislatures and governments, political parties, grassroots civic development and civil society organizations. The SPA also provides advice and assistance in the modernization of electoral laws, civil and electoral registries, and civil administration. Finally, the SPA develops and manages crisis-prevention, peace-building, crisis resolution, and post-conflict recovery programs to hemispheric countries, including boundary dispute negotiation and a program for humanitarian demining in Central America and the Andean region.

Another means of strengthening democracy is the Justice Studies Center of the Americas, established by the November 1999 Special General Assembly. This center fulfills an important goal of the 1998 Santiago Summit and is the result of close consultations among Ministers of Justice, Attorneys General, and others interested in this initiative. The Center is located in Chile, and its primary task is to promote reform in the justice sector throughout the hemisphere, focusing in the first stage on criminal justice issues.

OAS Foreign Ministers were meeting in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, to adopt and sign the new Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Their response to the terrorist attacks was an immediate condemnation and a focus on a united hemispheric response. They met again in Washington, DC. On September 21, 2001, to approve a resolution calling on member states to take effective measures to combat terrorism. At Brazil's initiative, the 22 signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, known as the Rio Treaty, met and declared that an attack against one member is an attack against all and committed themselves to providing mutual assistance in the war against terrorism.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the assembled ministers: "We, the united democracies of the Western Hemisphere, join the world in the global campaign against terrorism. We have pledged to deny terrorists and their networks the ability to operate within our territories. We have resolved to hold to account all those responsible for aiding, financing, and otherwise supporting and harboring terrorists."

The Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), reinvigorated in the wake of the September 11 attacks, met in Washington, DC on January 28-29, 2002. Delegates approved a work plan for CICTE to coordinate steps to prevent and combat terrorism in the hemisphere.

OAS members began negotiation of the text of the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism in November 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a text was agreed upon in March 2002. The Convention commits state parties to endeavor to become party to 10 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism (listed in the Convention), consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1373. The Convention also commits state parties to take certain measures to prevent, combat, and eradicate the financing of terrorism and to deny safe haven to suspected terrorists.

The Treaty further requires that the terrorist acts covered under the specified international conventions and protocols be criminalized as predicate crimes to money laundering. The Convention provides for enhanced cooperation in a number of areas, including exchanges of information, border control measures, and law enforcement actions.

Opened for signature in June 2002, the OAS convention entered into force internationally on July 10, 2003, 30 days after the sixth signatory deposited its instrument of ratification. The Convention entered into force internationally on July 10, 2003, after six countries became party. On October 7, 2005, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the President's ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism. On November 2, 2005, President Bush signed the instrument of ratification.

The United States deposited the instrument of ratification at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, DC in a ceremony on November 15, 2005, and became party to the Convention 30 days thereafter in accordance with the Convention's terms.

The Convention is a powerful indication of this region's resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms, enhancing hemispheric security by improving regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism, denying safe haven to terrorists, and by facilitating the exchange of information, technical assistance, and training in a wide number of complex areas, including the prevention and eradication of terrorist financing, the improvement of border and customs controls, and the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of terrorist acts.

In 1991, the 21st OAS General Assembly began examining security issues ranging from proliferation and arms transfers to "cooperation for hemispheric security." In 1995, the 25th General Assembly instructed the Permanent Council to establish the Committee on Hemispheric Security, which created the region's first permanent forum for the consideration of arms control, defense, nonproliferation, and security issues. The Committee on Hemispheric Security is composed of the 34 OAS member states, and has a chairperson and three vice-chairs that are elected for a 12-month period. Since 1991, the OAS has built an impressive record of achievement in the development of confidence and security-building measures.

In 2002-03, OAS member states undertook a comprehensive review of the hemispheric security architecture, culminating in a Special Conference on Security that took place in Mexico in October 2003. The Declaration on Security in the Americas provides a practical guide for resolving interstate border tensions, lowering pressure for arms spending, promoting democratic norms, and fostering a climate of confidence, trust, transparency, and cooperation in our Hemisphere.

In addition, the OAS has been active in preventive diplomacy. The OAS, with technical support from PAIGH, has provided cartographers, facilitators, conciliators, offered its good offices, and brokered agreements to resolve disputes between Belize and Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and El Salvador and Honduras.

The OAS has been involved in many conflict resolution and national reconciliation activities, such as disarmament and demobilization in Colombia.

Located in Washington, DC, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is distinguished from other multilateral organizations' human rights entities by its political autonomy. Its seven commission members are elected in their own right, not as representatives of governments. IACHR autonomy is further enhanced by its prerogative to initiate human rights investigations without the approval of the Secretary General or the Permanent Council. In response to a Santiago Summit initiative, in 1998 the IACHR established a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, with a mandate to support and promote freedom of the press.

Human rights in the inter-American system are based on the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights. The United States signed the American Convention on Human Rights in 1977, but has not yet ratified it.

The IACHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights—located in San Jose, Costa Rica—give the OAS an active and, at times, forceful role in promoting and protecting human rights. Through private persuasion and published reports on human rights infringements, the IACHR has been instrumental in improving OAS members' human rights practices and has helped to resolve conflicts. The IACHR's annual report has chapters on human rights problems in general, details regarding individual cases, and country status reports. The IACHR also publishes special reports, which have been effective in challenging abuses in specific countries.

The 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas plan of action charged the OAS with finding a hemispheric approach to fight corruption. The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, negotiated under OAS auspices during 1995-96, is the world's first comprehensive multilateral anticorruption agreement. The Convention entered into force on March 6, 1997, when Paraguay and Bolivia became the first countries to deposit their instruments of ratification. A total of 29 countries, including the United States, have now ratified or acceded to the Convention. The Convention provides for institutional development and enforcement of anticorruption measures by fostering mutual legal assistance, technical cooperation, extradition, and seizure of assets. The OAS Permanent Council's Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs has a Probity and Ethics Working Group that focuses on promoting effective implementation of the Convention.

The OAS Department of International Legal Affairs (ILA) carries out activities, including workshops funded by the U.S., to assist member states in developing the preventive measures provided for in the Convention and in implementing anti-corruption activities specified in the Country Report recommendations published by the Committee of Experts to the Follow-up Mechanism of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (MESISIC). In September 2006, the U.S. provided a grant to the OAS, in the amount of $1,042,750, to establish an Inter-American Anti-Corruption Fund to support OAS member states in fulfilling their commitments under the Convention. Twenty-seven OAS Member States, including the U.S., are parties to the Follow-up Mechanism.

The OAS narcotics program was launched at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Traffic in Narcotic Drugs in April 1986—the first Western Hemisphere meeting to deal with all aspects of the drug problem. In accordance with the program of action adopted at that meeting, the OAS General Assembly in November 1986 created the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which meets twice a year to direct the program and assess the drug situation in the hemisphere. Originally composed of 11 member governments, the commission has been expanded to 34 because of growing interest in the program and concern about the drug problem. The first projects were implemented in 1988. The program has identified five priority lines of action: development of domestic and international law, establishment of an inter-American drug information system, demand reduction, alternative development, and strengthening national drug commissions. CICAD's website is http://www.cicad.oas.org.

In 1996, the OAS produced a counter-narcotics strategy that will guide collective actions in the 21st century, and in 1999, it established a multilateral evaluation mechanism (MEM), as mandated by the Santiago Summit of the Americas. Under the MEM, experts evaluate individual country submissions documenting efforts to combat drug abuse and trafficking; the first full round of evaluations was published in January 2003. The OAS also has produced internationally acclaimed model legislation on precursor chemicals and money laundering control.

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) was created in 1996 when the Protocol of Managua charter amendments entered into force. CIDI replaced the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES) and the Inter-American Council for Education, Science, and Culture (CIECC).

CIDI is responsible for coordinating OAS development and technical cooperation activities in a partnership intended to attract financial support from donor countries, international development institutions, and other sources. CIDI's Permanent Executive Committee (CEPCIDI), the Inter-American Committee on Education, the Inter-American Committee on Culture, the Inter-American Committee on Sustainable Development (CIDS), the Inter-American Committee on Science and Technology (COMCYT), the Inter-American Committee on Ports (CIP), and other committees and ministerial-level meetings and their subgroups provide guidance and evaluation to the OAS secretariat on relevant policies, projects, and other activities. They also bring together technical and policymaking officials from the hemisphere to agree on joint priorities and initiatives. CIDI ministerials have been tasked by the Summit of the Americas with follow-up the implementation of initiatives in their specific fields.

On November 15, 1999, a Special General Assembly adopted the Statute of the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD). Created as the result of a U.S. initiative, the IACD maximizes use of existing resources, improve the management and delivery of technical cooperation, and better position the OAS to attract additional external resources to finance technical cooperation. The IACD's management board, composed of nine elected member states, provides operational guidance, while policy guidance comes from CIDI in both its annual and sectoral ministerial level meetings, from CIDI's executive committee and subsidiary bodies. IACD's statutes entered into force on January 1, 2000.

CIDI's Special Multilateral Fund, known by its Spanish acronym FEMCIDI, is composed of the voluntary contributions of the member states. While a member state is free to decide the level of its commitment, once a pledge is made to this fund, the country is legally obligated to pay the amount pledged, and a country is not allowed to request projects unless it has pledged by the deadline established.

The projects presented must receive a favorable evaluation (conducted by outside experts) in order to be considered for funding. Projects chosen to be funded are those that receive the highest evaluation scores within their individual sectoral accounts. Horizontal cooperation funds provide further assistance to lesser developed and smaller economies.

The OAS Scholarships and Training Program awards an average of 360 graduate fellowships each year. There also is a small undergraduate scholarship program, available only to students from Caribbean and Central American nations. A third program finances travel to training courses offered by member states. Although these scholarships have to date been financed by the OAS Regular Fund (assessed quota payments by member states), a Capital Fund for Scholarships and Training has been established to attract outside funding.

For 25 years, the OAS has helped member states incorporate environmental considerations into development projects. International development institutions have recognized the organization's in-house expertise and leadership role, and a number of these institutions have undertaken cooperative initiatives with the OAS or contracted the organization to serve as an executing agency for their environmental projects.

The biggest boost for the OAS' environmental efforts came at the 1996 Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development, held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Santa Cruz Declaration and Plan of Action gave the OAS a strong mandate to coordinate follow-up to those decisions. At the policy level, this takes place through the Inter-American Committee on Sustainable Development (CIDS), a meeting of government officials within the framework of CIDI. At the technical level, this occurs in the Inter-Agency Task Force, a group of representatives of technical cooperation agencies such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, UN programs, and U.S. and Canadian aid and environmental agencies. The OAS Secretariat's Unit for Sustainable Development and the Environment has a website at http://www.oas.org/usde; the Unit for Science and Technology has one at http://www.redhucyt.oas.org/ocyt.

The 1999 OAS General Assembly created a committee on civil society participation to develop mechanisms to accredit representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations in OAS activities. The committee completed a set of guidelines, which the Permanent Council approved in December 1999. The OAS has a long history of cooperation with civil society organizations, which has been enhanced by the Summit of the Americas consultative process. Non-governmental organizations have made significant contributions to the work of the IACHR, the Sustainable Development and Environment Unit, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, and CIDI. The new OAS civil society guidelines are designed to complement, but not modify the rules governing CIDI, its inter-American committees, and other inter-American specialized conferences and organizations. The guidelines establish an accreditation process similar to that used within the UN system.

The OAS trade unit, in cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), provides technical support to the negotiating groups created by the Miami Summit process to deal with issues involved in the creation of a Free Trade Area in the Americas (FTAA). The trade unit also has sponsored training courses on trade issues for officials from Latin American and Caribbean countries, held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The OAS' highly regarded trade information service, known as SICE, provides trade data and information on trade agreements, investment treaties and national regulations, as well as business directories and other sources of contacts, in a data bank at http://www.sice.oas.org. SICE also manages the FTAA website at http://www.ftaa-alca.org, in addition to the FTAA's Secure Document Distribution Service.

The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), which has active private sector participation, provides an impartial forum for resolving issues of keen commercial interest, such as coordination of standards and radio frequency spectrum use. In response to a Santiago Summit mandate, CITEL is developing best practices guidelines for universal service and interconnection and working to reduce standards-based trade barriers. One particularly important CITEL accomplishment was the endorsement in October 1999 of the Inter-American Mutual Recognition Agreement for the Assessment of Conformity of Telecommunications Equipment, also a Santiago Summit initiative. CITEL is a semiautonomous entity that reports to the OAS General Assembly through the Permanent Council. CITEL's website is http://www.citel.oas.org.

The General Secretariat is the permanent and central organ of the OAS, executing programs and policies decided upon by the General Assembly and the two councils. Directed by the Secretary General, it occupies a key position within the inter-American system and serves the entire organization and all member states. The Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General are elected by the General Assembly for 5-year terms. They can be reelected once and cannot be succeeded by a person of the same nationality.

The staff of the General Secretariat is composed of personnel chosen mainly from the member states, with consideration given to geographic representation. Staff members are considered international civil servants. The OAS Secretariat also maintains a small office in many member states.

The General Assembly is the supreme organ of the OAS. It holds a regular session each year, either in one of the member states or at headquarters in Washington, DC. In special circumstances, and with the approval of two-thirds of the member states, the Permanent Council can convoke a special session of the General Assembly. Delegations are usually headed by foreign ministers. In addition to deliberating on current issues, the General Assembly approves the program-budget; sets the bases for fixing member-state quota assessments; establishes measures for coordinating the activities of the organs, agencies, and entities of the OAS; and determines the general standards that govern the operation of the General Secretariat. General Assembly decisions usually take the form of resolutions, which must be approved by a majority of all members (two-thirds for agenda, budget, and certain other questions).

A consultation meeting of foreign ministers can be called by any member state, either "to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American States" (as stated in the OAS Charter) or to serve as an organ of consultation in cases of armed attack or other threats to international peace and security (per the Rio Treaty). In either case, the request must be directed to the Permanent Council of the OAS, which decides by absolute majority vote if the meeting is to be called. In cases between member states, the affected parties are excluded from voting. Should an armed attack take place within the territory of an American state or within the Western Hemisphere security zone defined by the Rio Treaty, a meeting of consultation is held without delay. Until the ministers of foreign affairs can assemble, the Permanent Council is empowered to act as a provisional organ of consultation and make decisions.

The Permanent Council, composed of ambassadors representing each member state, usually meets every 2 weeks throughout the year in Washington, DC. The council, its standing committees, and special working groups conduct the day-to-day business of the OAS, which involves implementing mandates from the General Assemblies, designing and assessing activities to promote democracy and strengthen human rights, considering requests from members, debating and approving resolutions on current issues, and dealing with reports from subsidiary organs.

In an emergency, a special session of the council can be called immediately by its chairman or at the request of any member. The chair rotates every 3 months, in alphabetical order. Unlike the UN Security Council, no member can exercise a veto in the Permanent Council. OAS members place great importance on obtaining consensus before decisions are made. The Permanent Council also serves provisionally as the organ of consultation (for meetings of foreign ministers) and every year acts as the preparatory committee for the General Assembly.

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development meets annually at the ministerial level; its subsidiary entities meet more frequently. CIDI also convokes ministerial-level sectoral meetings in areas such as labor, education, social development, sustainable development and culture to consider specialized issues in the priority areas of the Strategic Plan.

Much important inter-American business is conducted by separate entities, some of which are independent, some fully or partially funded by the OAS, and others consisting simply of periodic hemispheric meetings which receive support from the OAS Secretariat. Subjects covered include agriculture, labor, copyrights, private international law, highways, ports and harbors, railways, telecommunications, health and sanitation, statistics, travel, child welfare, women's issues, Indian affairs, and tourism. The conferences are attended by high-level officials and technical experts to further inter-American cooperation in these fields.

The Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN), founded in 1927 and headquartered in Montevideo, Uruguay, is concerned with the problems of minors and families, including trafficking, child labor, commercial sexual exploitation, international abduction of minors by one of their parents, and war-affected children. It serves as a center for social action and programs in the fields of health, education, social legislation, legislation on adoptions, social service, and statistics. IIN has contributed extensively to international jurisprudence in the field of family law; the most recent example of this work is model legislation on international adoption. IIN's website is http://www.iin.oas.org.

The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), established in 1928, was the first international organization focusing on women's issues. It works to extend the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of women in the hemisphere. Now concerned with women's integration into development and decision-making processes, domestic violence, trafficking in persons, and women's human rights, CIM research and seminars have focused on women and politics, women and employment, violence against women and most recently HIV/AIDS. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para) was drafted under the auspices of the CIM. It was opened for signature at the OAS General Assembly in 1994 and has been signed by 32 OAS members. In April 2000, the CIM ministerial approved the Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women's Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality. CIM's website is http://www.oas.org/cim.

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) is an entity of the Organization of American States of the OAS. The Board's central role is to provide the OAS and its member states with technical, educational and consultancy services on matters related to military and defense issues in the hemisphere in order to contribute to the fulfillment of the OAS Charter.

The IADB has as one of its principal organizations the Inter-American Defense College, established in 1962. The College is the preeminent hemispheric institution dedicated to developing and providing opportunities to military officers and civilian officials from OAS member states for advanced academic courses related to military and defense issues, the inter-American system and related disciplines. Instruction is based on distinguished speakers from throughout the hemisphere who are experts on matters of defense in the Americas.

The Inter-American Development Bank, the oldest and largest regional bank in the world, is the main source of multilateral financing for economic, social and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its loans and grants help finance development projects and support strategies to reduce poverty, expand growth, increase trade and investment, promote regional integration, and foster private sector development and modernization of the State. The IDB Group is composed of the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC) and the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF). The IIC focuses on support for small and medium-sized businesses, while the MIF promotes private sector growth through grants and investments. The bank's website is http: //www.iadb.org.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), founded in 1942 and headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, assists member states in promoting agricultural health and food safety, strengthening national agricultural institutional systems, and building trade capacity in agricultural commodities.

IICA supports efforts to increase agricultural productivity, employment opportunities in rural sectors, and rural participation in development activities. IICA also has an excellent record in preventing the spread of threatening animal and plant diseases and in helping members develop sustainable methods of food production. Policy direction comes from ministers of agriculture in each member country, who form the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA). IICA's website is http://www.iica.int.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), created in 1902, has served as the Western Hemisphere arm of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) since 1948. It coordinates hemispheric efforts to combat disease and promote physical and mental health. It has contributed significantly to eradicating communicable diseases and promoting improved sanitation and health conditions. PAHO's website is http://www.paho.org.

The Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH), headquartered in Mexico City, encourages the coordination, standardization, and publication of regional geographic, historical, cartographic, and geophysical studies. Member countries receive information and technical assistance for the sustainable development of their natural resources. PAIGH also assists member countries in identifying risks posed by natural disasters and has provided technical expertise to assist in mapping disputed borders between member countries.

Established in 1928, PAIGH preserves and documents historical data through research and publication. It also facilitates cooperative relationships between U.S. agencies and other countries in such vital areas as aviation safety and natural disaster mitigation. PAIGH's website is http://www.ipgh.org.

The Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII), created by the Patzcuaro Convention in 1940 and headquartered in Mexico City, initiates, coordinates, and directs research to promote better understanding of the health, education, and economic and social problems of Indian populations. It provides a forum for government representatives to discuss approaches to address the many challenges facing indigenous communities in the Americas.

Created in 1962 through a unique agreement between the Organization of American States (OAS) and the private sector, the Pan American Development Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization 501(c)(3) that creates public-private partnerships to assist the least advantaged people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Having worked in every country in the region, PADF engages community-based groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national, state, and municipal governments, and the private sector in the process of implementing appropriate solutions for sustainable development. Through these partnerships, we seek to achieve excellent and lasting programmatic impacts in creating economic opportunities, promoting social investments, strengthening communities and civil society, and preparing for and responding to natural disasters. PADF's website is http://www.padf.org.

Secretary General–Jose Miguel Insulza (Chile), assumed charge May 26, 2005.
Organization of American States
17th St. and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20006
(tel. 202-458-3000)
website: http://www.oas.org

U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS–Ambassador Hector E. Morales, Jr., assumed charge March 6, 2008.
U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS
WHA/USOAS, Rm. 5914
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
(tel. 202-647-9376)

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