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Last Updated:10/12/01
Testimony of Roger Noriega, U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States, October 10, 2001





OCTOBER 10, 2001

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for inviting me to testify before your Subcommittee this afternoon. I will be pleased to address the multilateral efforts under way in the hemisphere since the September 11 attacks. Mr. Curt Struble, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has a written statement that we wish to submit for the record, and Mr. Struble will answer any questions Members may pose related to the actions of any individual country in the region.

It is an honor for me to have this opportunity to discuss the response of Western Hemisphere countries at the Organization of American States to the terrorist attacks of September 11. To provide some context for this discussion, I should explain that on that fateful morning Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Lima, Peru, joining other foreign ministers of the region at an OAS Special General Assembly convened to approve the historic Inter-American Democratic Charter. The Secretary was told of the attacks during a private meeting with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and I watched the shocking images on television monitors outside the Assembly hall along with hundreds of delegates from throughout the Americas. Quite literally, from the first moments, the nations of the Americas were standing with us – united to confront the evil threat of terrorism. We witnessed the attack as an Inter-American community, and we are responding as a community now. Indeed, within less than two hours after the attack, just before the Secretary left Lima to return to the United States, the OAS General Assembly issued a statement condemning the attack and calling for strengthened hemispheric cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

In the ensuing weeks, hemispheric solidarity with the United States has been steadfast. Many ambassadors to the OAS told me privately that their instructions from their capitals were clear: “Our nation stands in firm solidarity with the United States.” Within hours of the attack, several key OAS member states called for invoking the 1947 Rio Treaty (the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) to declare that an attack against one American state is an attack against all and to bind one another to act in our common defense.

On September 19, the OAS Permanent Council – in which I represent the United States – invoked the Rio Treaty and convened a meeting of the Hemisphere’s foreign ministers two days later to adopt urgent measures to respond to the attacks.
Even those 12 of the 34 OAS member countries that are not Parties to the Rio Treaty – including Canada and all but three Caribbean countries – participated in the meeting invoked under the Treaty because they recognized that these assaults on humanity demanded an unprecedented, concerted response.

Secretary of State Powell told the assembled foreign ministers at OAS Headquarters September 21, “We, the united democracies of the Western Hemisphere, join the world in the global campaign against terrorism. We have pledged to deny terrorists and their networks the ability to operate within our territories. We have resolved to hold to account all those responsible for aiding, financing, and otherwise supporting and harboring terrorists.”

The OAS member states have collectively answered the call, pledging solidarity and cooperation and mandating specific actions from the OAS and member states in response. In addition, the Rio Treaty members have unanimously approved a resolution that puts the Hemisphere foursquare within the global coalition confronting terrorism. The resolution states clearly that these “terrorist attacks against the United States of America are attacks against all American states and that in accordance with all relevant provisions of the ¼ Rio Treaty and the principle of continental solidarity, all States Parties to the Rio Treaty shall provide effective reciprocal assistance to address such attacks and the threat of any similar attacks¼.” (OAS Ministerial Resolution, “Terrorist Threat to the Americas,” September 21, 2001, RC.24/RES.1/01, para. 1)

Mr. Chairman, these resolutions are not mere rhetoric; they provide the framework for action. They represent legislation that sets policy for the OAS member governments. Moreover, the resolution pursuant to the Rio Treaty constitutes legally binding commitments by each of the parties to the Treaty.

Specifically, the Rio Treaty parties agreed:

* “To use all legally available measures to pursue, capture, extradite, and punish” any persons involved in the September 11 attacks or any persons harboring the perpetrators; (para. 2) and,

* To “render additional assistance and support to the United States and to each other” to address the September 11 attacks and “to prevent future terrorist acts.” (para. 3)

In addition, the foreign ministers authorized a Rio Treaty Committee of the OAS Permanent Council to track the ensuing events and adopt additional measures necessary to ensure an effective Hemispheric response to these attacks and the threat of terrorism. To this end, State Department Counterterrorism officials briefed OAS Permanent Representatives and White House Ambassadors on October 5 on the compelling evidence assembled since September 11 that implicates Usama Bin Ladin and the al-Quaida terrorist network.

The OAS foreign ministers also called upon “all member states and the entire international community to take effective measures to deny terrorist groups the ability to operate within their territories¼.” The ministers declared that “those responsible for aiding, supporting, or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts are equally complicit in these acts.” (OAS Ministerial Resolution, “Strengthening Hemispheric Cooperation to Prevent, Combat, and Eliminate Terrorism,” September 21, 2001, RC.23/RES.1/01, para. 3)

The foreign ministers also approved two specific mandates: the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism was tasked “to identify urgent actions aimed at strengthening ¼ cooperation to prevent, combat, and eliminate terrorism in the Hemisphere.” (para. 8) And, the OAS Permanent Council was instructed to draft an “Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism.” (para. 9)

Since receiving those mandates, the Committee Against Terrorism, which is currently chaired by the United States, is set to meet in a Special Session next Monday to identify practical, urgent steps that governments in the region should take to fight terrorism, with the initial focus on drying up sources of financing and ferreting out their illicit assets as well as encouraging stronger border controls and airport security. We expect that the Committee Against Terrorism will convene the region’s senior counterterrorism policy makers for a regular session in the near future to commit to long-term strategies and tactics aimed at denying terrorists the ability to operate in the Americas.

With respect to the proposed regional treaty against terrorism, the OAS Permanent Council will begin a thorough but urgent drafting process which we expect will develop a regional accord for fighting terrorism that is both forward-looking and practical. It could potentially serve as a model for the rest of the world, given the exceptional degree of unity of purpose and resolve within the Hemisphere. This will not be a mere repetition of other international instruments: we expect to take additional steps to make our Hemisphere inhospitable to those who desire to conduct terrorist activities and to those who support terrorists.

As Secretary Powell said at the OAS last month, “Now, the long hard work must be done. Now, our governments, our law enforcement authorities and our civic institutions must find ways to work together at all levels and more cooperatively than ever before, exchanging life-saving information, coordinating our activities. Now, individually and collectively, we must take concrete steps to tighten border controls, enhance air- and seaport security, improve financial controls and increase the effectiveness of our counter-terrorism forces.”

He continued, “Let there be no question, let there be no doubt, we are in this worldwide campaign together for the long haul. We have endured an enormous tragedy but we will overcome. We will defend the rule of law against the lawless. We will not allow murderers to destroy our democracies and devastate our economies. We will never let our future be hijacked by terrorists.”

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, in recent years, thanks to a bipartisan policy in the Americas, the OAS has been gradually evolving into a more results-oriented organization that can advance a common agenda of promoting democracy and human rights, fighting illicit narcotics, and bolstering economic development and trade. In the Americas, multilateralism does not mean pursuing the lowest common denominator, but, rather, advancing the highest common ideals.

Through the OAS, and bilaterally, the governments of the Western Hemisphere are beginning to show themselves capable of working rapidly, systematically, and cooperatively. It is timely that they have agreed to defeat the scourge of terrorism by working through this increasingly active multilateral forum.

Since the horrific attacks of September 11, our Hemispheric solidarity is galvanized as never before – not out of fear, but by an iron-willed resolve, not out of any doubts about our common ideals, but by a strong determination to stand together to defend them.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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