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Strengthening Democracy: A Review of OAS Actions

Strengthening Democracy: A Review of OAS Actions in 2002

Strengthening Democracy: A Review of OAS Actions in 2002

Ambassador Peter DeShazo, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the OAS Remarks to a Special Session of the Permanent Council on Democracy Washington, DC April 29, 2003

Ambassador Peter DeShazo: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

A little over a year ago, still in the aftermath of September 11, we determined that we wanted to keep the issue of Follow-Up to the Democratic Charter as a permanent item on the agenda of the Permanent Council. We did so because we recognized the great significance of this document for us, and for the citizens of this Hemisphere in promoting and defending their right to democracy. In doing so, we reaffirmed our obligation, as representatives of the democracies of this Hemisphere, to promote and defend that right. Gradually, we have come to realize that the Charter stipulates not only the democratic values that we hold in common, but provides the essential tools that the Organization (Organization of American States, OAS) has to prevent or address threats to democracy.

We meet today under General Assembly Resolution AG/RES. 1907 to "review actions undertaken by the Organization in calendar year 2002 to promote and strengthen democracy, in order to determine such additional actions as may be deemed appropriate." In fact, the Democratic Charter is the spirit of the OAS , and virtually everything that the Organization did in the year 2002 was done in the spirit of the Democratic Charter.

We also should overcome the hesitation of using Article 17 of the Democratic Charter. In fact, every time a member state makes a request for technical assistance from the OAS, such as technical electoral assistance, strengthening institutions, promoting dialogue and conflict resolution, or leadership training, in essence it invokes the Democratic Charter.

We have two questions before us today.

First, what did we do in the year 2002 to promote and strengthen democracy? We can look at our efforts in two categories:

The first category is technical assistance or promotion of a democratic culture by the organs and entities of the OAS. The long-awaited inventory of democratic activities in the Organization that we have before us today is an impressive list. There is indeed a lot going on in the area of democracy, and not just in the work of the UPD (Unit for the Promotion of Democracy). I wonder if there was anyone in the Secretariat, let alone any of the Permanent Representatives, who was aware of all that the Organization is doing in this area. The level of technical activity is very reassuring.

Our delegation commends the UPD for putting this chart together, and all of the organs and entities that provided the information. We hope this will prove to be a catalyst for even greater coordination throughout the Organization in the future. To facilitate this, I propose that we make this very informative report an annual part of our review in preparation for the General Assembly each year. While we in the Permanent Council and our ministers in the General Assembly give the policy orientation for the Organization, it is in the daily implementation of these activities that we will make progress in promoting and defending democratic institutions, practice, and culture.

The second category of what we did in 2002 is more political in nature. Clearly, the Permanent Council has become more proactive in lending solidarity to member states, as we did in the case of Venezuela, Haiti, and Bolivia. Clearly, we are recognizing the need to speak up when the rights of the Hemisphere's citizens are being violated, as we did yesterday in the discussion on Cuba. Clearly, when representatives of OAS member states traveled to Seoul, Korea, in November 2002 to meet with member states of the Community of Democracy from other parts of the world we were promoting our values of democracy and the instrument we drafted to promote it. The meeting June 5-6 in Miami between OAS members of the Community of Democracies and members of the African Union-NEPAD is another such proactive initiative to share our values.

Clearly, when the Secretary General offers assistance to the Government of Bolivia to help resolve conflicts in that country or speaks out in support of the Government of Nicaragua's anti-corruption efforts, he is representing our democratic values. As the Permanent Council considers and votes on a resolution defending human rights in Cuba, we will be projecting those fundamental values.

The second question we have before us today is: What more can we do or should we be doing?

I am sure that all of us could come up with a long list of projects and activities we would like to see developed by the Organization were there only sufficient money and time to do it all. But I have a few concrete proposals to make:

1. One of the strongest ways we have of supporting those organs and entities of the Organization that are actively promoting democracy is to fund them adequately. We talk about providing increased financial support for the inter-American human rights system. We need to ensure that we are also providing adequate financial support for the democracy programs of the UPD and other organs and entities of the Organization. Without an increase next year to the regular Program-Budget, it will be difficult to maintain at current levels, let alone enhance support, for these essential democracy programs. Each member and observer state should consider making voluntary contributions to these collective programs. My government has approved a substantial increase in what we will contribute to democracy activities this year. Frankly, we hope these additional funds will leverage greater contributions from other donors.

2. We should actively seek ways to promote a democratic culture in the Americas based on our shared values. There are many ways we can do this:

* We should urge our Education Ministers to make a commitment at their August meeting to incorporate civic education, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter, into the curriculum of each of our countries. * Last year's special session on Women in the Political Process was highly successful and attracted outstanding speakers. I propose that the Permanent Council, following on the Education Ministerial and with the help of the UPD and the Unit for Social Development and Education, consider holding a Special Session in September on "Promoting a Democratic Culture Through Civic Education."

3. Inter-parliamentary exchanges are useful: Representatives of the U.S. and Venezuelan legislatures have been meeting for the last year to learn more about each other's methods and understand more their differences. We should encourage more such practical exchanges.

4. Horizontal cooperation is productive: Brazil and Paraguay have shown us the way with their pilot program to share Brazil's electronic voting machines and software for the Paraguayan elections held this past Sunday. Peru is inviting members of the Rio Group to share best practices and experiences in the area of political party reform. The Inter-American Forum on Political Parties is encouraging greater sharing of experiences among the current and future leaders of our countries, and we should encourage these efforts. We should make horizontal cooperation a strong element of political party reform.

5. An annual evaluation of democracy activities is essential: We have discussed follow-up activities to the Democratic Charter at least 6 times since we adopted it on September 11, 2001. I propose that we hold an annual session of the Permanent Council as we are doing today to evaluate the level of activity in the previous year. To prepare for this session, we should ask the UPD to provide us with an updated inventory of activities each year. The results of this session should be included in our report to the General Session on the promotion of democracy and follow-up to the Democratic Charter.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Released on April 29, 2003

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