Ambassador Lomellin Addresses the 11th OAS Hemispheric Forum with Civil Society

U.S. Mission to the OAS - Washington, D.C.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to start by thanking you and the OAS General Secretariat — in particular Secretary Quiñónez — for hosting this annual dialogue. The logistics and attention to detail it takes to organize and run an event of this size are always a tremendous amount of work.

I would also like to thank you, the representatives of civil society, for traveling from your homes from throughout the hemisphere to visit Washington — in order share your views with Member States regarding projects and programs which you are undertaking related to the theme of the upcoming OAS General Assembly — “Development with Social Inclusion.”

The United States views this Forum as an opportunity to work together with civil society to promote democratic values and deepen our cooperation. So let me be quite clear — my delegation values your comments and thoughts today.

Let me also share some brief observations with you regarding the commitment of the United States to uphold the OAS’s core values of democracy, good governance and human rights.

First – I want to share a quote from President Obama who put it very clearly: “the first and most fundamental freedom that we must work for is political freedom. The United States must be a relentless advocate for democracy.” This reflects the reality that in the case of the United States, civil society played a key role in the seminal social movements of the last century.

Whether it was women suffrage, civil rights, or labor issues, these movements all featured civil society front and center. And while we have made tremendous progress, civil society still keeps us accountable and provides a collective voice for change — by the people and for the people.

And so, Mr. Chairman, we will continue to support and defend the role of civil society – within the U.S., in the region, and here at the OAS.

With respect to the theme of the General Assembly, I want to share with you that the United States is actively working to deepen its focus on challenges to social and economic inclusion.

We are doing this in part through initiatives that engage historically marginalized groups — including indigenous peoples; people of African descent; LGBT persons; and women. These initiatives address the underlying causes of inequality by improving access to services and economic opportunities.

Through action plans on racial and ethnic equality signed with Brazil and Colombia, we have allocated nearly one million dollars last year for programming — including education, English language scholarships, youth and leadership development, capacity building, and people to people exchanges.

We also developed a regional strategy — the first at the Department of State – for eliminating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity against LGBT people. And we strongly support the efforts of the OAS on this front, through the new LGBT Unit of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Chairman, to promote best practices on social protection and improve access to basic services for vulnerable and historically marginalized groups, we are working with governments, civil society, the OAS and the private sector to implement the Inter-American Social Protection Network (IASPN).

This Network operates a Knowledge Portal to virtually exchange innovative practices — and enables countries and organizations to provide technical assistance to governments for strengthening social protection.

But Mr. Chair, fellow delegations, and members of civil society, we look forward to doing even more to raise the visibility of vulnerable groups and social inclusion in the region. To this end, I welcome views from all of you on ways that we can better partner together.

Thank you very much.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS)

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