The Organization of American States (OAS) brings together the nations of the Western hemisphere to promote democracy, strengthen human rights, foster peace and security, and address the shared complex problems caused by poverty, terrorism, drugs and corruption. The OAS is the region’s principal multilateral forum for political dialogue and collective action.
In 1948, 21 nations of the hemisphere signed the OAS Charter, affirming their commitment to common goals and their respect for each nation’s sovereignty. They also adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the first international statement of its kind. But the idea of inter-American cooperation dates back much further. In the 1820s, Simón Bolívar envisioned a region “united in heart.” In 1890, nations of the region formed the Commercial Bureau of American Republics, which evolved into the Pan American Union and later into the OAS. Since 1948, the Organization of American States has expanded to include the nations of the English-speaking Caribbean and Canada, giving the OAS a broader perspective that encompasses the entire hemisphere.
With four official languages — English, Spanish, Portuguese and French — the OAS reflects the rich diversity of the hemisphere’s peoples and cultures. It is made up of 35 member states: the independent nations of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The government of Cuba, a member state, has been suspended from participation since 1962; thus only 34 countries participate actively. Nations from other parts of the world participate as permanent observers, which allows them to closely follow the issues that are critical to the Americas.
The member countries set major policies and goals through the General Assembly, which gathers the hemisphere’s ministers of foreign affairs once a year in regular session. Ongoing actions are guided by the Permanent Council, made up of ambassadors appointed by the member states.
To carry out the programs and policies set by the political bodies, six specialized secretariats coordinate OAS efforts in several broad areas; the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security, the Secretariat for Political Affairs, the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, the Secretariat for External Relations, the Secretariat for Legal Affairs, and the Secretariat for Administration and Finance.
Also under the OAS umbrella are several offices and specialized agencies that have considerable autonomy, including the bodies of the Inter-American human rights system, the Inter-American Children’s Institute, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Inter-American Commission of Women, the Inter-American Committee on Ports and the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission.
Visit the website of the Organization of American States (OAS): www.oas.org