Organization of American States (OAS)

Organisation des Etats Américains (OEA)
Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA)
Organização dos Estados Americanos (OEA)

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1890-04-14 Washington DC USA


Since established, April 14 has been celebrated as Pan-American Day. The original purpose of the Union was to ensure prompt collection and distribution of commercial information through its central office, the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics – Bureau commercial des républiques américaines – Oficina Comercial de la Repúblicas Americanas, in Washington DC. The 2nd International Conference of American States, 1901, Mexico City (Mexico), adopted the Protocol of Adherence of the American Republics to the conventions framed by the First Hague Peace Conference, 1899, while the name of the Commercial Bureau was changed to International Commercial Bureau – Bureau commercial international – Oficina Comercial Internacional. The 3rd International Conference of American States, 1906, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), expanded the duties of the Bureau to include educational matters. At the 4th International Conference of American States, 1910, Buenos Aires (Argentina), the name of the International Commercial Bureau to Pan American Union (PAU) – Union panaméricaine (UPA) – Unión Panamericana (UPA).

The 5th International Conference of American States, 1923, Santiago (Chile), formalized a technique for the pacific settlement of disputes in the T-XT2306 - Treaty to Avoid or Prevent Conflicts between the American States (Gondra Treaty). It also approved a resolution leading to the founding of the F-XF0287 - Pan American Highway System. The International Conference of American States on Conciliation and Arbitration (a special conference), 1929, Washington DC, further strengthened the principles of arbitration and conciliation with the signing of the T-XT2907 - General Treaty of Inter-American Arbitration and the T-XT2906 - General Convention of Inter-American Conciliation. The 7th International Conference of American States, 1933, Montevideo (Uruguay), adopted the T-XT3315 - Convention on Rights and Duties of States, establishing the equality of states and the principle that no state has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another. At the Inter-American Conference for Maintenance of Peace (a special conference) 1936, Buenos Aires, conventions were adopted incorporating the principle of consultation for the pacific settlement of controversies and in the event of an international war outside America that might menace the peace of the American republics. Subsequently, 3 meetings were called to devise strategy for the defence of the Western Hemisphere during World War II: 1939, Panama; 1940, Havana (Cuba); 1942, Rio de Janeiro.

Through the Act of Chapultepec – Acta de Chapultepec, adopted by the Inter-American Conference on the Problems of War and Peace (a special conference), 1945, Mexico City, the system of consultation was broadened; likewise, a resolution was adopted that declared in part that 'the security and solidarity of the Continent are affected to the same extent by an act of aggression against any of the American states by a non-American state, as by an act of aggression of an American state against one or more American states', and that such aggression against one or more of them would be considered aggression against them all. The meeting also created the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES), superseding H-XH1079 - Inter-American Financial and Economic Advisory Committee. CIES is itself currently replaced by the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI). The Inter American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security (a special conference), 1947, Rio de Janeiro, put into effect permanently the provisions of the Act of Chapultepec through the drawing up of the T-XT4715 - Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). The Treaty defines the principal obligations of the signatories in the event of armed attacks against an American state or acts of aggression short of armed attack; a security zone in which the treaty is operative was drawn and the Organ of Consultation was created.

The 9th International Conference of American States, 1948, Bogota, adopted the T-XT4860 - Charter of the Organization of American States, and the Union of American Republics changed its name to Organization of American States, although the General Secretariat of the OAS continued to be called the Pan American Union. The International Conference of American States was renamed Inter-American Conference – Conférence interaméricaine – Conferencia Interamericana. The 1948 Conference also approved: T-XT4805 - American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogota); American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man – Déclaration américaine des droits et devoirs de l'homme – Declaración Americana de los Derechos y Deberes del Hombre; Economic Agreement of Bogota; the setting up of Committee on Inter-American Organizations, which studied clauses of the OAS Charter and resolutions approved by the 9th Conference with relation to Inter-American Organizations - 'Specialized Organizations' and other entities. The 10th Inter-American Conference, 1954, Caracas (Venezuela), changed the direction and orientation of the policies and programs of the OAS by emphasizing economic, social, and cultural development. The 7th Meeting of Consultation (under the Charter), 1960, San José (Costa Rica), adopted the Declaration of San José – Declaración de San José that denounced all types of intervention that could endanger American solidarity. The Act of Bogota set forth measures for the social improvement and economic development of the countries within the framework of Operation Pan America – Opération Panaméricaine – Operación Panamericana, and laid the foundation of the Alliance for Progress – Alliance pour le progrès – Alianza para el Progreso. The Alliance for Progress became a reality when OAS adopted the T-XT6127 - Charter of Punta del Este and the Declaration to the Peoples of America – Déclaration aux peuples d'Amérique – Declaración a los Pueblos de América.

The 8th Meeting of Consultation (under the Rio Treaty), 1962, Punta del Este (Uruguay), approved a resolution excluding the Government of Cuba from participation in the inter-American system. The First Special Inter-American Conference, 1964, Washington DC, approved the Act of Washington that sets guidelines for the admission of new members to the Organization. The 10th Meeting of Consultation (under the Charter), 1965, Washington DC, considered the 'serious situation created by armed strife in the Dominican Republic' and created an H-XH4271 - Inter-American Peace Force for that occasion. The 3rd Special Inter-American Conference, 1967, Buenos Aires, approved the Protocol of Amendments to the Charter of the OAS, known as Protocol of Buenos Aires. At a Meeting of American Chiefs of State, 1967, Punta del Este (Uruguay), the Declaration of the Presidents of America was signed, spelling out the means for the American nations to intensify inter-American cooperation. The OAS Charter, as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires, entered into force on 27 Feb 1970, providing the Organization with a new structure. The General Assembly replaced the Inter-American Conference and the functions previously carried out by H-XH1091 - Inter-American Peace Committee were assigned to the Permanent Council of OAS, assisted by H-XE7304 - Inter-American Committee on Peaceful Settlement. The first meeting of the General Assembly was held in 1971, San José, under the terms of the Charter as amended. At its 3rd regular session, 1973, Washington DC, the General Assembly created a Special Committee for the purpose of restructuring the inter-American system so that it might respond adequately to changing hemisphere and world conditions.

T-XT7777 - Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal (Panama Canal Treaty) and T-XT7757 - Protocol to the Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal, 1977, which were signed at the OAS, entered into force on 1 Oct 1979. The T-XT8160 - Inter-American Convention on Extradition was approved in 1981. In its 12th regular session, 1982, Washington DC, the General Assembly ratified 24 Jul 1982 through 24 Jul 1983 as the Bicentennial Year of the Birth of the Liberator Simón Bolivar, February 18 was declared the Day of the Women of the Americas. 1986 was declared as the 'Inter-American Year of Peace'. At its 14th Special Session, 5 Dec 1985, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), the General Assembly approved the T-XT8560 - Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States (Protocol of Cartagena de Indias), which entered into force 16 Nov 1988.

At its 21st Regular Session, Jun 1991, Santiago de Chile, the OAS General Assembly adopted the 'Santiago Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the Inter-American System', in which member states declared, among other things, their 'inescapable commitment to the defence and promotion of representative democracy and human rights in the region, within the framework of respect for the principles of self-determination and non-intervention'. At the same meeting, the General Assembly approved a resolution on 'Representative Democracy' (AG/RES 1080), instructing OAS Secretary General to call for immediate convocation of a meeting of the Permanent Council in the event of any occurrence giving rise to sudden or irregular interruption of the democratic political institutional process or of the legitimate exercise of power by the democratically elected government in any OAS member state.

'Charter Reform': At its 16th Special Session, 14 Dec 1992, OAS General Assembly adopted the 'Protocol of Washington' containing amendments to the OAS Charter principally to incorporate provisions of AG/RES 1080 on Representative Democracy. New Article 8 bis provides that a member whose democratically elected government has been overthrown by force may be suspended from exercising the right to participate in sessions of OAS organs. Also, the eradication of extreme poverty is incorporated among essential purposes of the Organization.

At its 19th Special Session, 8 Jun 1993 in Managua (Nicaragua), the General Assembly approved the 'Protocol of Managua' of Amendments to the Charter of the Organization. The Managua Protocol entered into force on 29 Jan 1996, when ratified by two-thirds of OAS member states. It gives new impetus and approach to the promotion of cooperation in the Americas aimed at achieving integral development and eliminating extreme poverty in the Hemisphere. Under the Protocol, the Councils on Economic and Social Affairs and Education, Science and Culture are replaced by the CIDI, and other measures taken to improve the delivery of technical cooperation to the member states.


Essential 'purposes':

(a) To strengthen the peace and security in the hemisphere;

(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 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.

Additional purpose, approved 14 Dec 1992: To eradicate extreme poverty which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere.

'Principles' reaffirmed by the American States:

(a) International law is the standard of conduct of states in their reciprocal relations;

(b) International order consists essentially of respect for the personality, sovereignty, and independence of states, and the faithful fulfilment of obligations derived from treaties and other sources of international law;

(c) Good faith shall govern the relations between states;

(d) The solidarity of the American States and the high aims which are sought through it require the political organization of those states on the basis of the effective exercise of representative democracy;

(e) Every state has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it, and has the duty to abstain from intervening in the affairs of another state. Subject to the foregoing, the American States shall cooperate fully among themselves, independently of the nature of their political, economic, and social systems;

(f) The American States condemn war of aggression: victory does not give rights;

(g) An act of aggression against one American State is an act of aggression against all the other American States;

(h) Controversies of an international character arising between two or more American States shall be settled by peaceful procedures;

(i) Social justice and social security are bases of lasting peace;

(j) Economic cooperation is essential to the common welfare and prosperity of the peoples of the continent;

(k) The American States proclaim the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed, or sex;

(l) The spiritual unity of the continent is based on respect for the cultural values of the American countries and requires their close cooperation for the high purposes of civilization;

(m) The education of peoples should be directed toward justice, freedom, and peace.

Additional principle incorporated 14 Dec 1992: the elimination of abject poverty as an essential part of the promotion and consolidation of representative democracy and the common and shared responsibility of the American States.

At the 20th Special Session, Feb 1994, Mexico City (Mexico), the General Assembly approved 2 resolutions, one containing a 'General Policy Framework and Priorities: Partnership for Development' and the other agreeing on a 'Commitment on a Partnership for Development and Struggle to Overcome Extreme Poverty'.

At the 24th Regular Session, Jun 1994, Belém (Brazil) the Assembly adopted the 'Declaration of Belém do Para' in which Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Heads of Delegation of Member States declared: their firm commitment to strengthening the OAS as the main hemispheric forum of political consensus so that it may support the realization of member states in promoting and consolidating peace, democracy, social justice and development in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter; their decision to promote and deepen cooperative relations in economic, social, educational, cultural, scientific, technological and political fields; their commitment to continue and further dialogue on hemispheric security so as to consolidate and strengthen mutual confidence; their determination to continue contributing to the objective of general and complete disarmament under effective international control; their determination to strengthen regional cooperation to increase effectiveness of efforts to combat illicit use of narcotic drugs and traffic therein; their decision to cooperate in a reciprocal effort towards preventing and punishing terrorist acts, methods and practices, and development of international law in this matter; and their commitment to promote economic and social development for indigenous populations of their countries.


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'General Assembly', the supreme organ, meets in regular annual session either in a member state or at headquarters. Special sessions may be convoked by the Permanent Council with the approval of two thirds of the member states. S-XS0288 - Summit of the Americas - Summit process, started 1994, is administered by 'Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management' and implementation of decisions monitored by Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG). 'Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs' may be convoked either under OAS Charter to consider problems of an urgent nature of common interest to the American States, or under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance to serve as Organ of Consultation in cases of armed attack or other threat to international peace and security. Meetings of Consultation may be assisted by an 'Advisory Defense Committee', composed of the highest military authorities of the American states.

Councils directly responsible to the General Assembly:

- 'Permanent Council' comprises one representative of ambassadorial rank for each member state, appointed by the respective government and: takes cognizance of any matter referred to it by the General Assembly or the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs; serves provisionally as the Organ of Consultation; keeps vigilance over the maintenance of friendly relations among member states and assists them in peaceful settlement of their disputes, for which purpose it may establish 'ad hoc' committees with membership and mandate agreed in each individual case with the consent of the parties to the dispute; acts as the Preparatory Committee of the General Assembly.

- E-XE2432 - Inter-American Council for Integral Development, created 29 Jan 1996, on ratification of the Protocol of Managua (Nicaragua), replacing U-XE5708 - Inter-American Economic and Social Council (IA-ECOSOC) and U-XE5792 - Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture, is the structure for implementing policies and programs to comply with the Protocol's objectives on promoting cooperation for achieving integral development and eliminating extreme poverty. CIDI includes E-XE4189 - Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD).

K-XE3692 - Inter-American Juridical Committee (IAJC) - permanent headquarters in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) - is the principal advisory juridical organ of the OAS, replacing H-XH0194 - Inter-American Council of Jurists, set up by the 1948 Charter. It is composed of 11 jurists, nationals of member states, elected by OAS General Assembly for a 4-year term from candidates presented by these states and includes working groups on representative democracy, on probity and public ethics and to prepare the 'Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples'. It holds meetings, organizes courses and seminars and undertakes studies.

E-XE7981 - Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), created during the 5th Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, 1959, Santiago (Chile), comprises 7 members from OAS member states, represents all countries which are members and acts on their behalf.

F-XF8702 - Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Corte IDH), established 18 Jul 1978, on coming into force of the T-XT6916 - Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José de Costa Rica) - the 'Pacto de San José' - is headquartered in San José (Costa Rica) and comprises 7 jurists from OAS member countries; its purpose is to apply and interpret the Convention.

'General Secretariat', OAS central and permanent organ/working arm with headquarters in Washington DC (USA), carries out programs and policies decided on by General Assembly, Meetings of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Councils. It is headed by the Secretary General, assisted by the Assistant Secretary. The Secretary General or his representative may participate (without vote) in all meetings of the Organization and may bring to the attention of the General Assembly or the Permanent Council any matter which in his opinion might threaten the peace and security of the Hemisphere or the development of member states. The Secretary General is represented ex officio on Board of Trustees of the Pan American Development Foundation, with which there are close links.

'Structure of the General Secretariat':

  • Office of the Secretary General;
  • Office of the Chief of Staff;
  • Department of Legal Services;
  • Summits Secretariat;
  • Office of Protocol;
  • Office of the Assistant Secretary General;
  • Secretariat to the General Assembly, the Meeting of Consultation and the Permanent Council;
  • Department of Conferences and Meetings;
  • Columbus Memorial Library;
  • Office of the Inspector General;
  • Secretariat to the Inter-American Commission of Women;
  • Secretariat to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
  • Secretariat to the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission;
  • E-XE1054 - Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI);
  • Secretariat for Political Affairs;
  • Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation;
  • Department of Sustainable Democracy and Special Missions;
  • Department of Effective Public Management;
  • Secretariat for Multi Dimensional Security;
  • Executive Secretariat to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission;
  • Secretariat of the Inter American Committee against Terrorism;
  • Department of Public Security;
  • Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI);
  • Department of Human Development, Education and Employment;
  • Department of Economic and Social Development;
  • Department of Sustainable Development;
  • Secretariat for Legal Affairs;
  • Department of Legal Cooperation;
  • Department of International Law;
  • Secretariat to the Administrative Tribunal;
  • Secretariat for External Relations;
  • Department of International Affairs;
  • Department of Press and Communication;
  • K-XF7583 - Art Museum of the Americas, OAS;
  • Secretariat for Administration and Finance;
  • Department of Human Resources;
  • Department of General Services;
  • Department of Financial and Administrative Management Services;
  • Department of Planning and Evaluation;
  • Department of Information and Technology Services;
  • Department of Procurement.

'Specialized Conferences' meet to deal with special technical matters or to further inter-American cooperation in given areas. Specialized Conferences have covered a wide range of subjects: agriculture, labour - H-XF1104 - Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, copyrights, private international law, economics, education, highways, ports and harbours, telecommunications, health and sanitation, natural resources, statistics, travel, child welfare, children and youth affairs, indian affairs, human rights, cultural affairs, science and technology, tourism, and trade.

'Specialized Organizations' (5), with headquarters in various cities of the Western Hemisphere:

'Other Entities' - Special commissions or agencies within the OAS, with headquarters in Washington DC, collaborate with the 3 Councils, the General Secretariat and other OAS bodies to achieve objectives of common interest:

Linked to OAS General Assembly:


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Relations with Inter-Governmental Organizations

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Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations

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Type I Classification

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Type II Classification

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Subjects *

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UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions



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* Subject classification is derived from the organization names and aims.
** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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