FOCAL’s COMMENTS TO THE MEETING OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE FOR INTER-AMERICAN SUMMITS MANAGEMENT OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES

Washington, D.C.

September 19, 2000

The Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) welcomes this opportunity to make some preliminary comments on the current discussion paper "2001 Summit of the Americas: Themes" to Ambassadors of the OAS and government negotiators of the Summit. As you know, FOCAL is Canada’s premier policy centre dedicated to studying foreign policy, trade policy and development policy issues of the Americas. We have invested considerable effort to promote the Summit of the Americas process as a principal engine of deeper hemispheric cooperation. We work with key partners and experts in the region, and this presentation will endorse the positions of our partner institutions.

FOCAL has supported the initiative, under the leadership of countries such as Canada, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the USA, to open the proceedings and deliberations of the OAS to civil society input and interaction. The OAS Guidelines for Civil Society participation, approved in December 1999, now make it entirely legitimate for groups such as ourselves to meet with representatives from the member states of the OAS, as well as with Secretariat staff to express our views on the work of this important organization.

That the OAS through this Committee has taken the initiative to hold meetings on the monitoring and implementation of commitments from the Summit of the Americas, is another signal of the relevance of this body for greater hemispheric cooperation. These meetings of the OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management with civil society did not exist prior to 1999. Thus neither the Miami nor the Santiago Summits benefited from the kinds of input we will receive today. FOCAL is extremely supportive of this initiative, and commends the Office of Summit Follow-up for its hard work in making these meetings possible. The challenge now is to make these meetings accessible to a wider group of civil society voices, and to this end, FOCAL, through its various partnerships will assist in publicizing the existence of these meetings. We applaud the decision by the Chair of this Committee to hold the Special Committee meetings prior to each of the upcoming Summit Implementation Review Groups (SIRGs), and we are pleased that the reports of these hearings will be submitted to Summit negotiators.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER CIVIL SOCIETY INCLUSION

Despite the positive steps noted above, FOCAL recommends that further steps could be undertaken to foster meaningful dialogue with civil society groups of the Americas. These are:

  • States should develop an adequate feedback mechanism on the outcomes of the SIRG deliberations (either through the OAS Office of Summit Follow-up, or by a letter from the Chair of this Special Committee for Inter-American Summits Management to all those who participated at this meeting, or through national coordinators to civil society organizations based in their countries);
  • Member States of the OAS and the Summit should include civil society representatives as observers on their national delegations to each SIRG meeting in order to provide input and on-site consultation for each delegation, as well as improve broader public understanding and acceptance for the complex decisions made at the SIRG;
  • Summit negotiators should give serious consideration to urging civil society inclusion at the various Ministerial level meetings on sectoral issues which will precede the April 2001 Summit. In this context, Summit negotiators (as well as offices of Presidents and Prime Ministers) should give a clear indication to negotiators of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) to improve access and in-country consultations with civil society, and not just the private sector, on the FTAA negotiations.

GENERAL COMMENT ON THE DISCUSSION PAPER AND PROPOSED SUMMIT THEMES

Despite the good intentions behind the general themes proposed in the current Summit document (prepared by the government of Canada dated August 2000), the paper undermines its own call for a "focused, results-oriented, relevant agenda" by trying to satisfy every competing demand for Summit action. Time is short and Summit skepticism is growing. FOCAL echoes the call of most other hemispheric non-governmental groups, as well as some governments, that the Summit Plan of Action contain specific commitments that are financially feasible and likely to produce concrete results that will have a positive effect on people’s lives. There is a need to establish quantifiable targets, timelines, and follow-up mechanisms for the proposed Summit initiatives within the Action Plan. This was not done in the previous two Summits, and this would be a major contribution from Canada. To this extent, FOCAL fully supports the comments made by the representative of the Leadership Council on Inter-American Summitry.

Moreover, though national governments are ultimately the "owners" of Summit Mandates, commitments from hemispheric institutions such as the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), are necessary in order to ensure the resources (both financial and human) are made available for implementing these mandates. Special consideration should be given to ensuring that all of the technical agencies of the OAS are included as implementers of the appropriate Summit action items. Coordination of the activities of all these other multilateral agencies in the context of the Summit would greatly advance the implementation of Summit action items.

FOCAL believes that placing the proposed Summit themes into three specific "baskets" causes arbitrary divisions and an obvious disconnect between what should be regarded as overlapping issues. Corruption, for example is a governance issue that would be best placed in the "Strengthening Democracy" basket, yet it is also an economic, as well as a social issue. At the moment the only reference to corruption is placed in the "Creating Prosperity" chapter, implying that anti-corruption initiatives are only necessary for the private sectors of the Americas. In reality, transparency and accountability are concerns that should encompass all sectors of society in the Americas: government, civil society, the private sector, media, etc. .

Similarly, the environment may be another theme that straddles the "Prosperity", the "Human Potential" and "Democracy" baskets. Sound environmental management is still a governance issue for states in this hemisphere, where basic legislation and clear regulations to protect the environment do not exist. Civil society inclusion and a gender perspective are two further issues which cannot be compartmentalized, but need to be addressed in an integrated manner throughout all Summit themes. That gender issues are not mentioned in the "Democracy Basket" will send a wrong signal to citizens of this region. We support the long-standing work of the Women’s Leadership Council of the Americas (WLCA) and the Inter-American Dialogue, which has since the Miami Summit advocated integrated and comprehensive action by leaders for the advancement of women in the Americas.

Based upon our view that there are several cross-cutting issues in the Inter-American agenda as a whole, and in this document in particular, it seems entirely arbitrary to negotiate language on one theme (democracy) in October 2000, and not remain open to modifications for the next 6 months prior to the Summit. Indeed, if some states (such as Canada, Chile and the USA) are committed to public consultation on the Summit drafts, then the results of national consultations will have to be re-considered by Summit negotiators. These consultations, now underway in 17 countries, and being managed by Corporación Participa of Chile, will result in a consolidated document of recommendations to be presented by end –January 2001. It would be unfortunate should these views be cast aside at that point.

With regard to "Connectivity for Community", FOCAL sees the digital divide as a perpetuation of ongoing inequities in the region. The so-called digital divide is a symptom, and not a cause, of on-going inequality the region. Access to electricity and basic telephone services remain the principal obstacles, and these are not issues relating to high-technology alone. While the Canadian document refers to connectivity as a means and not an end, we fear that by the time of the Summit, the issue will become an end in itself, along the lines of the G-8 dot force initiative. We recommend that care be taken to not use connectivity as a means to demonstrate the great advances of the high technology sector in Canada or the USA to a region that still needs to address basic human needs and overall inequality in the region. Summit skepticism will only be further fuelled by this approach.

FOCAL’s COMMENTS ON THE STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY SUMMIT BASKET

An abundance of highly significant governance issues can be justifiably placed in the Strengthening Democracy basket of the Action Plan of the Third Summit of the Americas. A relevant, results-oriented Action Plan, however, requires a clearly defined hierarchy of policy priorities. Issues such as migration, labour rights, local governance and decentralization remain important and have been dealt with in previous Summit language. The problem is that some states have neither had the resources nor the political will to live by previous Summit commitments on these issues. However, given recent political and social crises in the region, urgent attention continues to be required on fundamental democratic governance issues. The numerous constitutional and electoral crises of the past year indicate that some of the leaders of the region have not fully adhered to the values and principles of representative democracy. In such unstable democracies, first tier democratic reforms still require primary attention. On October 1-3, 2000, the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) will have the difficult task of deciding upon four specific initiatives for the "Strengthening Democracy basket". FOCAL believes that the basket should reflect the following hierarchy of policy priorities:

  1. The addition of a democracy clause to the Summit of the Americas process (specifically the FTAA)
  2. Accountability/ Transparency/Corruption
  3. Human Rights
  4. Civil Society

Democracy Clause: Regional blocks such as MERCOSUR and free trade agreements such as the European Union-Mexico agreement make democratic rule a condition of accession or continued membership. The recent Summit of the Presidents of South America held in Brasilia, moreover, left the door open for Canada as the host of the Third Summit of the Americas to define what kind i.e. quality of democracy is desired in the region and what are the necessary tools to reach it. One of the main points of the "Brasilia Declaration" was a clause establishing that respect for democracy and the rule of law is a precondition for participation in future Summits, and that a mechanism of political consultations will be activated in case of a threat to democracy in any of the region’s countries.

Canada should take the lead in re-evaluating OAS Resolution 1080 which provides for an emergency meeting of the region’s Foreign Ministers to decide upon specific collective action when democracy is threatened in the region. A credible pre-1080 punitive measure is necessary within the Summit of the Americas process (including the FTAA and the OAS) to cope with breaches in democracy that do not necessarily constitute a rupture of constitutional government, but rather the curtailment of basic electoral processes and obligations.

Accountability/Transparency/Corruption: Accountability should be reflected at many levels: accountability of elected officials, of civil society organizations, the military, political parties, private corporations etc. Transparency takes into account: freedom of expression, freedom of the press, access to timely relevant information, and urging leaders to recognize citizens’ right to information. We endorse the position stated by the representative of the Carter Center for Democracy, and encourage Summit negotiators to take into consideration recommendations that will emerge from their mid-October meeting in Atlanta.

FOCAL supports an action item calling for the creation of a follow-up mechanism to track progress in Member States with respect to implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. Similar to the success of the multilateral evaluation mechanism of country anti-drug strategies, which is one clear success story from the Santiago Summit, the anti-corruption agenda in the Americas now needs teeth, targets and monitoring. FOCAL supports the call by all chapters of Transparency International in the Americas have made useful and clear recommendations for such a mechanism.

Human Rights: The Summit document needs to be more specific about initiatives which will address the deficiencies of justice systems with regard to human rights abuses. Also, the reform of the Inter-American Human Rights System remains a crucial issue which requires the political and financial commitments from all heads of state. FOCAL endorses the call from Human Rights Watch (Americas) that member states and the OAS improve the coordination of human rights organs in each country, as well as the repeated concern for improvements in the administration of justice.

Civil Society: The Summit of the Americas process has taken the lead in considering the role of civil society in the nations of this hemisphere. FOCAL, along with its partners, the Esquel Group Foundation and Corporación Participa, calls for language in the Summit Action Plan that emphasizes the importance of the development of a culture of civic engagement as a basis for a democratic and economically healthy society. The "Strengthening Democracy" basket can clearly acknowledge the need for constructive dialogue with civil society and "make a strong commitment to enhancing public consultation on major policy issues such as free trade, education, citizen and public security, the environment, human rights, and public sector reform to name a few.


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