Overview of the Organization of American States

Founded in 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) is the oldest regional organization in the world. It was built upon the Pan-American Union to promote peaceful relations in the Americas. The OAS is the premier political multilateral forum of the hemisphere, with 34 active member states. The OAS has also granted permanent observer status to 70 states and the European Union. It is the only regional organization that includes North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean.

The OAS is built on four pillars: democracy, human rights, security and development. These core values underlie the organization’s work in safeguarding peace and stability. They are also among the OAS’s areas of greatest expertise. OAS headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., and the organization has national offices in its member states. In 2015, the OAS’ annual regular budget amounted to US$84.3 million, supplemented by US$51.1 million in voluntary contributions.

Member states are represented by their Permanent Representatives, who meet regularly to analyze hemispheric issues, dialogue and take collective action as necessary.

General Assembly

The General Assembly (GA) is the principal organ of the OAS. It gathers Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all member states on an annual basis and also holds special sessions to consider urgent matters. OAS member states generally take decisions by consensus.

The General Assembly provides the forum where major decisions are made concerning OAS policies and actions. This year’s General Assembly will take place in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, from June 13-15, 2016, with the theme of “Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas”. For more information, see OAS General Assembly.

Structure of the OAS

General Secretariat

The OAS General Secretariat is led by a Secretary General (SG) and an Assistant Secretary General (ASG) elected by the membership for up to two 5-year terms. On March 18, 2015, OAS member states elected Uruguayan Luis Almagro Lemes as the new Secretary General.

Permanent Council

The Permanent Council, as a main governing body of the OAS, meets regularly to set broad priorities for the organization and direct its ongoing actions. It is composed of one Permanent Representative per member state, who is accredited with the rank of ambassador.

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) is a body of the Organization of American States directly answerable to the General Assembly. It has  decision making power in matters of partnership for integral development. The purpose of CIDI is to promote cooperation among its Member States for the furtherance of their integral development and, in particular, to help eliminate extreme poverty.

Summit of the Americas

The Summit of the Americas convenes the leaders of the hemisphere every three years. It plays a key role in setting the priorities of the Inter-American system and, more broadly, in fostering discussions at the highest level on issues of common interest for the region. The OAS serves as the technical secretariat and institutional memory of the summit process.

Since the first summit in 1994 in Miami, leaders have met on seven occasions to discuss their shared vision as well as to address the political, economic and social development challenges and opportunities in the hemisphere. Canada hosted the 2001 summit in Quebec City.

Panama hosted the Seventh Summit of the Americas on April 10-11, 2015. For the first time, leaders and representatives from all 35 countries of the hemisphere were in attendance. The general theme of the Panama Summit was “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

A number of events took place on the margins of the Panama Summit, including the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors, the CEO Summit, the Young Americas Forum and the first Forum of University Chancellors. Ottawa-based ParlAmericas and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino) also co-hosted a Parliamentary Gathering on Legislative Transparency.

Canada reports on its progress in implementing commitments made at the summits. Please see, reports submitted by Canada and other member states.

For more information, see Summits of the Americas Secretariat.


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