Organization of American States

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Organization of American States

Organization of American States and the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

Based on the Handbook on Peaceful Settlement of Disputes between States (1992, United Nations):

Chapter VI (arts. 23 to 26) of the OAS Charter deals specifically with the peaceful settlement of disputes. Article 23, as amended by the 1985 Protocol of Cartagena de Indias, provides that international disputes which may arise between American States shall be submitted to the peaceful procedures set forth in the OAS Charter, although that should not be interpreted as an impairment of the rights and obligations of the member States under Articles 34 and 35 of the Charter of the United Nations. Specific mention is made in the Bogota Charter of direct negotiation, good offices, mediation, investigation and conciliation, judicial settlement and arbitration as well as other means of the choice of the parties to the dispute. Article 26 contains an express reference to a special treaty establishing adequate procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes and the means for their application.

This is the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (” Pact of Bogoti”) of 30 April 1948, which contains a detailed provision of the above-mentioned procedures in addition to certain general principles regarding the peaceful settlement of disputes between American States.

Permanent Council intervention

It is also to be noted that, as amended in 1970, and again in 1985, the OAS Charter endows the Permanent Council of the organization, composed of one representative of each member State, with functions in the field of peaceful settlement. The exercise of these functions may be initiated by any party to a dispute in which none of the peaceful procedures provided for in the OAS Charter is under way. If any or all of the parties to a dispute request the good offices of the Council the latter shall assist the parties and recommend the procedures it considers suitable for the peaceful settlement of the dispute.

In the exercise of these functions the Council, with the consent of the Governments concerned, may resort to fact-finding activities in the territory of one or more parties to the dispute. It also may, with the consent of the parties to the dispute, establish ad hoc committees with a membership and mandate also to be agreed to by the parties.

General Assembly Intervention

Furthermore, article 87 of the OAS Charter, as amended in 1985, provides that if the procedure for the peaceful settlement of disputes recommended by the Permanent Council or suggested by the pertinent ad hoc committee under the terms of its mandate is not accepted by one of the parties, or one of the parties declares that the procedure has not settled the dispute, the Permanent Council shall so inform the General Assembly, without prejudice to its taking steps to secure agreement between the parties or to restore relations between them.

Secretary-General Intervention

As for the role of the OAS Secretary-General himself, the adoption in 1985 of the Protocol of Amendment to the OAS Charter which gives him powers similar to those conferred on the Secretary-General of the United Nations by Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations seems to have paved the way towards the expansion of his powers in the area of peaceful settlement.

Resort to the Organization of American States in the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes

The Permanent Council may exercise a variety of functions, includinggood offices, inquiry and fact-finding at the request of one party to a dispute. The border conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua may be mentioned as an example of their application. As a result of serious incidents
having taken place on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Government of Costa Rica had recourse to the OAS Permanent Council, which by means of a resolution adopted on 7 June 1985 requested the Governments of Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela to form a factfinding committee, with the participation of the Secretary-General of OAS, to ascertain the events described by Costa Rica.

After carrying out an on-site investigation, the committee reported to the Permanent Council. After considering the report, on 11 July 1985 the Permanent Council adopted a resolution in which it recommended to the Governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica that they proceed to start talks within the framework of the Contadora countries’ negotiating process. By the same resolution, the Permanent Council decided to consider that the committee’s mandate was accomplished.

As for the role of the OAS Secretary-General, his functions further to that of participation in the above-mentioned fact-finding Committee may be noted. Thus, as regards the global situation in Central America, he has taken the initiative of submitting on 18 November 1986 an “aide-mimoire” to the Governments of the five Central American States (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the eight Governments making up the Contadora and Support Groups (Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, and Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, respectively), in which he explained the assistance that both organizations, singly or jointly, could provide for the purpose of promoting the peace efforts of the two Groups.

As a result of said initiative, the Contadora and Support Group States requested the
participation of the two Secretaries-General (United Nations and OAS) in a visit to the capitals of the five Central American countries, which took place in January 1987.

On 7 August 1987, the Presidents of the five Central American countries signed an agreement entitled “Procedure for the Establishment of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America”, better known as the Esquipulas II Agreement, which established an International Verification and Followup Commission to be composed of the Foreign Ministers of the five Central American States and of the Contadora and Support Group States as well as the two Secretaries-General.

Therefore, the OAS General Assembly, by a resolution adopted on 14 November 1987, authorized the Secretary General of OAS to continue carrying out the functions he had been performing, namely, participation in the International Verification and Follow-up Commission, and also requested him to provide every assistance to the Central American Governments in their efforts to achieve peace. The International Verification and Follow-up Commission met several times from August 1987 to January 1988 and reported to the signatories of the Esquipulas II Agreement on 14 January 1988.

As part of the agreements reached at Tela, Honduras, on 7 August 1989, the five Central American States agreed on a Joint Plan for the Demobilization, Repatriation and Relocation of the Nicaraguan Resistance and Their Families, the execution of which will be placed under the supervision of an International Support and Verification Commission (CIAV) whose membership includes the Secretary-General of OAS. Furthermore, the Secretary-General of OAS, together with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, was requested by the indicated Plan to certify that it had been fully implemented.

As the Pact of Bogota¡ is envisaged by the OAS Charter (article 26) as the special treaty which will establish the adequate means for the settlement of disputes, contemplated in the OAS Charter, it is appropriate to mention here an example of the application of this treaty. It concerns the judgment by the International Court of Justice of 30 December 1988 on the case concerning Border and Transborder Armed Actions (Nicaragua v. Honduras). The Court concluded, as invoked by Nicaragua, that it had jurisdiction over the case under article XXXI of the Pact of Bogota.

International Agreements and Charters about the Organization of American States (OAS)

In relation to the Organization of American States, Charter of the OAS:

  • Charter of the Organization of American States
  • Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States “Protocol of Cartagena de Indias”
  • Protocol of Amendments to the Charter of the Organization of American States “Protocol of Washington”
  • Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States “Protocol of Managua”
  • Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States, Privileges and Immunities

In relation to the Organization of American States “Protocol of Buenos Aires”: Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Organization of American States.

Spain and the Organization of American States

The Permanent Observer Mission of Spain to the OAS represents Spain in the heart of this Organization. The beginnings of the OAS go back to 1890, with the creation of the Pan American Union, its direct precedent, making it the oldest International Organization in the world. Nevertheless, it was with the signing of the Bogotá Charter in 1948 that the Organization adopted the name and structure for which it is known today. Its 3 fundamental pillars are: the defense of Democracy and Human Rights, Comprehensive Development, and Multidimensional Security.

Since 1967, Spain has been associated to the Organization of American States through a constant, active and productive cooperation program, which has allowed to position her as a strategic ally in the region for the strengthening of democracy, the protection of human rights, and the promotion of a comprehensive development and multidimensional security.

It was in 1972 when this relationship experienced a qualitative leap forwards, Spain becoming the first Permanent Observer to the OAS, showing its willingness to deepen its cooperation ties in benefit of the Peoples of the Americas. The Organization has 68 Permanent Observer countries. Spain is one of the three observer countries that has a Permanent Representation accredited exclusively before the OAS and the PAHO.

Since Spain formalized its entrance in the Organization as a Permanent Observer, Spain and the OAS have maintained an open dialogue as well as political and strategic collaboration, which have been reflected in joint actions and have allowed to strengthen the management capacity and support of the Secretariat General of the OAS in the carrying out of the mandates given by Member States, and in the formulation and carrying out of plans, programs and cooperation projects.

The second qualitative leap in the relationship between the OAS and Spain occurred when, in 2006, the Spanish Fund for the OAS was created, reinforcing cooperation ties and offering an effective mechanism to channel its contributions. Since its creation, the Spanish Fund has carried out almost 100 projects in sectors of great importance to the Organization and to Spain, with a contribution of approximately 50,5 million dollars. Spain is the only country, including members and observers, which has a Fund for the OAS, consequently becoming the principal contributor out of all the observer countries and the third out of all OAS countries in 2009.

The Spanish effort has focused in certain areas of fundamental importance to the OAS, such as crisis management and prevention of conflict, the defense of human rights, electoral observation, or action against landmines (including humanitarian demining).

Spain is very strongly involved with the political, social and economic duties of the OAS as it shares common values and principles with those of the Organization. In the words of José Miguel Insulza, former Secretary General of the Organization: “Spain’s relationship with the OAS is mutually beneficial and satisfactory, with a great view for the future. We encourage other permanent observers and strategic actors to establish similar mechanisms of support to the Organization’s programs, in a stable and effective manner.”

Guide to the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes

  • 1. Introduction to the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes
  • 2. Peaceful Resolution of Disputes Obligation, which comprises:
  • a. History of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes Obligation
  • b. Peaceful Settlement of Disputes Obligation Nature
  • c. Obligation of Peaceful Settlement Scope
  • d. Obligation of Peaceful Settlement Content
  • 3. Means of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes between states, which comprises:
  • a. Variety of Means of Peaceful Settlement
  • b. Institutionalization of the Peaceful Means of Settlement
  • c. History of the Peaceful Means of Settlement
  • d. Peaceful Settlement of Disputes in International Organizations
  • 4. Variety Use of Means of Peaceful Settlement
  • 5. European Convention for the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes


See Also

League of Arab States

Further Reading

  • Cooperation, conflict and consensus in the organization of American States (CM Shaw – 2004)
  • The Organization of American States (OAS): global governance away from the media (M Herz – 2011)
  • Enforcement action by regional agencies, with special reference to the Organization of American States (M Akehurst – Brit. YB Int’l L., 1967)
  • The protection of human rights by the Organization of American States (JA Cabranes – American Journal of International Law).

Organization of American States

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on organization of american states explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.


See Also

  • International Organization
  • Foreign Relations
  • Intergovernmental Organization
  • Regional Organization
  • Regional Integration


Further Reading

  • The entry “organization of american states” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press

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