From June 5-7 the member states of the Organization for American States (OAS) will convene in El Salvador for their 41st General Assembly, which has as its theme “Citizen Security in the Americas,” a key issue given the alarming levels of violence in Central America and Mexico. WOLA will be in attendance as a civil society observer, and our experts will be available to provide analysis.
“The General Assembly is focusing this year on citizen security, an issue that tops the list of voter concerns from Chile to Mexico,” said Adriana Beltrán, Senior Associate for WOLA’s Citizen Security program, who will be in attendance.
Past General Assemblies have broached the subject of citizen security, but this year’s assembly promises to take on a more far-reaching interpretation of the crisis of crime and violence facing the region. Many countries struggle with soaring homicide rates—most notably the “Northern Triangle” countries with rates of 66 per 100,000 in El Salvador, 50 in Guatemala, and 77 in Honduras—which trump, for instance, the 14 of war-torn Iraq. These rates are not only unacceptable due to their threat to life and physical integrity, but they pose an enormous obstacle for young democracies in the region, and particularly for weak justice systems. The ever-changing dynamics of drug trafficking and organized crime, which dominate headlines, can also make citizens fearful.
The General Assembly will gather OAS member states to review, debate, and finalize the draft “Declaration of San Salvador on Citizen Security in the Americas.” In broad strokes the document is expected to generate consensus among the member states that the provision of citizen security is a duty of the state, guaranteed to all citizens in the Americas.
While the thrust of the OAS’ focus on citizen security is positive, member states are often tempted to blame shortcomings in citizen safety on drug trafficking alone. While drug trafficking looms large and traffickers perpetrate some of the worst acts of violence, there is a whole spectrum of crime the states must take into account—from assault, robbery, petty theft, and extortion to gender and intra-family violence—which require equal weight in the debate about citizen security.
The high-level recognition of this issue is critical as the region’s governments attempt to take on crime and violence. This is particularly true in those cases that transcend borders, where they will need to coordinate efforts with other countries, align funding from their own budgets, and secure international cooperation.
“While the OAS General Assembly’s debate about citizen security will not alter regional security dynamics overnight, the opportunity to focus on this critical issue in the region’s biggest multi-lateral institution is important,” Beltrán emphasized.
As you prepare to cover the General Assembly, we’d like to draw your attention to WOLA materials related to the ongoing debates:
- Stronger than the Iron Fist: Funes Administration Attempts a Different Approach to Crime and Violence in El Salvador As it plays host, the Salvadoran government is likely to emphasize the Funes stamp on security strategies in El Salvador. In this piece, Senior Associate Adriana Beltrán discusses the Salvadoran government’s move away from the harsh tactics of his predecessors, rather emphasizing more comprehensive, community-based approaches to tackling crime.
- Protect and Serve? The Status of Police Reform in Central America draws on in-depth research on the police forces of Central America.
- Daring To Care: Community-Based Responses to Youth Gang Violence in Central America and Central American Immigrant Communities in the United States highlights the importance of preventing youth violence before it starts in a region beset by gang violence.
On the ground in San Salvador
Senior Associate for Citizen Security
For general press inquiries