The American States establish by this Charter the international organization that they have developed to achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence. Within the United Nations, the Organization of American States is a regional agency.

Article 1, Charter of the Organization of American States

For members of civil society and other advocates wanting to effectively engage with the OAS or other regional organisations on issues related to violence against women, there must be some understanding of the organisation’s structure and the function each of the main bodies fulfils. Each body within the OAS serves a different function and will have different methods of engagement, all of which work together to achieve the goals and purposes of the OAS – as well as serving as mechanisms for civil society engagement. The Charter of the Organization of American States can provide a starting point for understanding the OAS and its work.

In 1948, the Charter of the Organization of American States (the “Charter’) was signed in Bogota (Colombia), creating the OAS framework and outlining goals of the regional organisation, main bodies and their functions. To achieve its goals, the Charter establishes four pillars that incorporated throughout the agreement: democracy, human rights, security and development. Part 1 of the Charter describes the nature and purposes of the OAS. Article 2 states that:

The Organization of American States, in order to put into practice the principles on which it is founded and to fulfil its regional obligations under the Charter of the United Nations, proclaims the following essential purposes:

a. To strengthen the peace and security of the continent;

b. To promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of non-intervention;

c. To prevent possible causes of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the Member States;

d. To provide for common action on the part of those States in the event of aggression;

e. To seek the solution of political, juridical, and economic problems that may arise among them;

f. To promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social, and cultural development;

g. To eradicate extreme poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere; and

h. To achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that will make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of the Member States.

Part 2 of the Charter outlines the main organs of the OAS through which it accomplishes the purposes listed above. The bodies of the OAS include:

Each body’s powers and functions are also outlined in Part 2 of the Charter, however additional powers and functions can be developed if needed or determined by the General Assembly. The remainder of the Charter is dedicated to the conditions of ratification and entry into force, relationship with the United Nations and other miscellaneous provisions.

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