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Public International Law Research

A guide that highlights resources and recommended strategies for conducting research on international law topics.

General Overview of the Organization of American States

General Overview of the Organization of American States (OAS)

The Organization of American States claims to be the world's oldest regional organization, dating back to an 1889 conference and the 1948 signing of the OAS Charter. OAS member states consist of all 35 independent countries in the Americas. The purpose of the OAS under its charter is to achieve among these member states "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."

The OAS has several administrative bodies. The following chart outlines the general characteristics of each primary organ. 

General Assembly The supreme organ and chief policy-making body of the OAS, which meets annually. Each member state is represented by a delegation to the General Assembly, and each state gets one vote. Chapter IX of the OAS Charter sets forth the powers of the General Assembly.
Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs Ministers of Foreign Affairs from each of the 35 member states meet occasionally upon request "to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest" to the member states and to serve as the "Organ of Consultation" on such matters, as outlined in Chapter X of the OAS Charter.
Permanent Council Consisting of one Permanent Representative chosen by the government of each member state, the Permanent Council attends to the day-to-day matters entrusted to it by the General Assembly or the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and monitors the maintenance of friendly relations among the member states and the observance of the standards governing General Secretariat operations.
General Secretariat

The administrative backbone and "central and permanent organ" of the OAS, according to Chapter XVI of the OAS Charter. It is based in Washington, DC.

The General Secretariat is led by the Secretary General, who is elected by the General Assembly to a 5-year term.

The Secretary General can delegate duties to the Assistant Secretary General.

Seven Secretariats carry out the work of the General Secretariat in the following areas:

Inter-American Juridical Committee (CJI) An advisory body promoting progressive development and codification of international law and studying the possibility of standardizing legislation among countries.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Autonomous organ of the OAS whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. Created in 1959, it is composed of seven independent members elected by the General Assembly to serve four-year terms.

Locating OAS Primary Materials

Locating OAS Primary Materials

Over the years, OAS has created several official documents that provide clarity about the nature of the relationships between the member states and how OAS as a whole should be run.

OAS Charter

The Charter of the OAS outlines the organization's nature, purposes, principles, institutional framework, and organizational structure of the OAS.  This Charter was first adopted in 1948 and has since been amended several times.

OAS Document Center and Document Search

Major documents such as the Annual Report of the Secretary General, declarations and resolutions, and treaties and agreements can be readily accessed from the OAS website's Documents section.

The OAS website also provides an advanced Document Search function.

Political Database of the Americas

A project of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University in collaboration with the OAS. This database provides access to political information about countries in the region, including their institutions and political processes, national constitutions, branches of government, elections, and other subjects related to the strengthening of democracy in the region.

Secondary Sources for OAS Research

Secondary Sources for OAS Research

U.S. Congressional Research Service

The U.S. Congressional Research Service periodically publishes a report entitled Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress, presenting an overview of the OAS and highlighting issues of concern from the United States' perspective. The document addresses U.S. support for the OAS budget and the extent to which U.S. policy objectives are aligned with OAS policy.

New York Times Coverage

Find New York Times stories about the Organization of American States here.