Address by Minister of State Ablonczy to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States

No. 2011/20 - San Salvador, El Salvador - June 6, 2011

Check Against Delivery

Canada views the Organization of American States [OAS] as the principal multilateral organization in the Americas and as a crucial venue for cooperation with hemispheric partners in support of effective multilateralism and the pursuit of our shared interests. We were proud to celebrate our 20th anniversary of full membership in the OAS last year and look forward to continuing our active involvement for many years to come.

The topic of citizen security in the Americas is both relevant and timely. As you are all aware, this general assembly marks the third consecutive year in which a security-related topic has been chosen as the theme for the meeting. This focus on security from three consecutive general assembly hosts, as well as the numerous security-related resolutions that will be adopted over the course of this meeting, are a testament to the importance attached by countries throughout the hemisphere to addressing this essential issue.

Indifferent to borders, transnational organized crime—including drug trafficking—is sowing violence and insecurity here in Central America and indeed throughout the region, my own country included. Our hemispheric coordination must improve to meet the challenge.

To this end, Canada is very pleased that the Government of Guatemala will host the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy later this month. This event constitutes an important opportunity to bring key international donors together with heads of state from the region to identify and coordinate the technical and financial cooperation necessary to address the root causes of crime and violence affecting the region.

Security and human rights constitute two of Canada’s priority areas of engagement at the OAS. Enhancing security is also a pillar of Canada’s strategy of engagement in the Americas and has been a foreign policy priority for our government since Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the strategy at the beginning of 2007.

We applaud El Salvador for choosing to focus on citizen security at this year’s general assembly, and we look forward to working with all member states to strengthen the ability of the OAS to protect citizens throughout the hemisphere from a broad range of security threats.

To this end, I am very pleased to announce that the Government of Canada will contribute more than $4.9 million in funding through Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Anti-Crime Capacity-Building Program to support the important work that the OAS is doing to enhance security in the hemisphere.

This includes support to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission [CICAD] Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, which has been a tool integral to strengthening hemispheric solidarity and multilateral cooperation on the drug control issue, as well as raising awareness on the subject.

Financial resources will also be provided to assist CICAD in the important work that it is doing in the Caribbean, including establishing a Caribbean-wide drug information network, a groundbreaking initiative that will assist participating countries in the formulation of drug policies and programs. Resources will also be provided to establish a Caribbean counter-drug intelligence centre as well as to assist CICAD in conducting training seminars on the investigation of drugs sold over the Internet, a new and rising threat to OAS member states.

Recognizing the importance of addressing both the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs, Canada will also fund CICAD’s demand-reduction strategy to address substance abuse, crime and violence in the Caribbean.

Finally, I was very pleased to have been able to witness an agreement signed yesterday by [El Salvador’s] Foreign Minister [Hugo] Martínez and [OAS] Secretary General [José Miguel] Insulza as part of a new, evidence-based approach to systemic security reform. Over the next three years, Canadian funding will assist the OAS Secretariat for Multidimensional Security in developing, implementing and evaluating an integrated intervention plan with the aim of reducing transnational organized crime in Central America, with El Salvador as the pilot country.

This significant financial contribution to the OAS is an indication of Canada’s strong belief in the Organization, particularly in the work of its bodies dedicated to enhancing security in member states. It also reflects Canada’s ongoing commitment to modernizing the hemispheric security framework to make it more coherent and increase its effectiveness.

A key component of Canada’s work in this regard will be our efforts to reinforce the Inter-American Defense Board’s integration into the OAS and to shepherd the Board through the internal reforms and modernization it requires if it is to make a meaningful contribution to enhancing multi-dimensional security in the region.

Canada was very pleased to have been elected chair of the Board, and I believe that I can speak for Lt.-Gen. Guy Thibault, who is with us here today, in stating that he is looking forward to assuming the chairmanship of the Board on July 1 to begin the important work that lies before him.

As we all know, peace and security are ultimately founded on respect for democratic principles and human rights. We have collectively enshrined these principles in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a landmark achievement that will celebrate its 10th anniversary later this year.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter remains a fundamental point of reference that guides our collective efforts in strengthening democratic governance in the hemisphere. Canada is pleased that this year’s resolution on supporting the promotion of democracy in the hemisphere calls for dialogue to continue strengthening the implementation of the tenets of this key document, recognizing the important contributions that civil society organizations can make to this process.

While there is wide acceptance among our member states on the need for democracy as an expression of political will, Canada would like to see a focus in discussions going forward on the practice of democracy. By “practice of democracy,” I am referring to the day-to-day functions of our governments as well as the way in which our institutions interact with citizens.

For Canada, this includes elements such as the balance of power between public institutions, freedom of expression, a vibrant civil society, respect for minority rights and minority views, the existence of a free media and respect for a loyal political opposition.

You will understand that as a parliamentarian, I am very sensitive to the role of elected officials and of civil society in a healthy and vibrant democracy.

Canada believes that an open debate on the practice of democracy would be healthy for democracy in the Americas. As a starting point, we should share our experiences in the practice of democracy. Canada suggests that member states consider the creation of a compendium of good practices where we could review and exchange information on what each member considers its national contributions to democratic practices.

We believe that all countries in the hemisphere, including Canada, stand to benefit from a formal exchange and dialogue on best practices related to democratic governance. It is our hope that such a process would also lead toward strengthening the implementation of the Democratic Charter.

Despite advances in democracy over the past couple of decades, political crises still threaten stability in the region. The coup d’état in Honduras two years ago was not only a major step backward for Honduras, it also threatened the democratic gains we have collectively made in the region.

However, Honduras is well on the path to recovery, with a democratically elected government and a truth and reconciliation commission that has played a critical role in the process of national reconciliation. Despite the fact that President [Porfirio] Lobo has faced tremendous challenges as a result of the 2009 crisis, he has responded constructively to the concerns of both domestic and international actors.

Canada was therefore very pleased to welcome Honduras back to the OAS at the Special General Assembly held last week in Washington, D.C. The reintegration of Honduras into the OAS allows us to benefit from the important contribution that Honduras has to make to this organization and to focus on the other significant hemispheric challenges that warrant our full attention.

These challenges, of course, include the ongoing situation in Haiti. Canada’s commitment to Haiti is long-standing, with bilateral programming dating back to 1968. Haiti is currently the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in the Americas.

Canada is committed to supporting Haiti both in the ongoing provision of humanitarian assistance and in longer-term reconstruction efforts. We were a key player in the electoral transition in Haiti, working closely with the OAS, and in the Contact Group of like-minded countries.

We welcome the new government of President [Michel] Martelly and are committed to work with him to address the fundamental needs of the Haitian people. Governance and strengthening the rule of law will be keys to Haiti’s future success. Responsibility starts with the political leadership and the elites of the country, who must step up and make Haiti a better place.

Finally, I would like to underscore the urgent need to address the Organization’s serious budget deficit and ensure that the OAS can continue to effectively promote our key priorities. To this end, all member states must approach discussions on the budgetary situation and priority-setting exercise with discipline and flexibility, in order to find long-term, sustainable solutions.

Canada, for its part, is committed to promoting the enhanced accountability, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the OAS in order to address the key challenges facing the hemisphere.

Through the Canadian International Development Agency, we are supporting a number of initiatives at the OAS to improve its results-based budgeting and management, strategic planning and other business processes.

We will continue to support efforts to put the OAS on a stronger financial footing, notably through leading a multi-year program review and priority-setting exercise aimed at controlling the Organization’s mandate load, setting clear budget priorities and implementing austerity measures in order to help address the funding pressures facing the Organization.

However, additional reforms will be necessary to balance the regular budget and put the OAS on a long-term, sustainable financial footing. This will involve difficult decisions regarding OAS activities, but I believe it is an opportunity to revitalize the Organization.

Canada looks forward to working with all member states to reach a consensus on the Organization’s priorities, and we stand ready to support the Secretary General and accompany the Secretariat in this important endeavour.

Together, we can reinvigorate the OAS and enable it to address the priority issues facing our hemisphere, including the consolidation of democracy and enhancement of the security of our citizens.

Thank you.