Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore
New York, 16 May 2007
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Economic and Social Council
6th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Territories, lands and natural resources
First of all, my delegation would like to congratulate you and all the officers
elected this year and to wish you well in the important task of maintaining the
forward momentum in favour of indigenous peoples already achieved by this
Permanent Forum since the start of this century.
From the time the Forum met last year, much has happened regarding steps to
improve the exercise of the rights of indigenous peoples at the national and
international levels, particularly in light of the Forum’s special theme this
year of Territories, lands and natural resources.
The postponement of the adoption of the draft Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) marked a disappointing moment.
After 24 years’ discussion in a working group of the Commission on Human Rights,
the draft Declaration was taken up at the first session of the Human Rights
Council and, after a recorded vote, was duly sent to the General Assembly for
adoption as part of the first Report of the Human Rights Council.
My delegation would like to express its regret that the adoption of the draft
Declaration was postponed. In this regard, we would like to draw attention to
the benefits which the existence of such a human rights instrument would entail
especially for the very poorest living in rural areas, often of indigenous
origin and often marginalized by the modern world, and those who could be
empowered to contribute much more to the political and economic life where they
Various objections have been raised against the draft Declaration as it
currently stands. Some say that the DRIP contradicts national constitutions and
that self-determination only concerns those who used to live under colonial
rule. Others suggest that the DRIP is unclear on what constitutes “indigenous
people”, while still claiming to support the Declaration, in spite of
substantive concerns. While respecting the motivations behind each position, the
Holy See wishes to reiterate the particular importance it attaches to the
Instrument under consideration and encourages UN member States to show
flexibility and social farsightedness with a view to reaching an agreement
during the present session of the General Assembly. My delegation believes that
such a political gesture would not only profit the poorest and most excluded
citizens in both rich and poor countries of the world, but would also enhance
peace among peoples and foster the just and equitable enjoyment of human rights
To judge by events in the Third Committee last autumn, there appear to exist
genuine concerns that the DRIP could lead to demands that might break the
fragile links forged at great cost among disparate tribal groups born as states
within the last fifty or so years. Some also seem to fear that the Declaration
may become a threat to sovereignty or to state revenues from natural resources.
Such concerns however should not marginalize the best interest of the poorest
peoples in such resource-rich territories; nor should states be oblivious to the
economic progress for all that could be achieved by a greater regard for the
particular genius of indigenous peoples and what they may be willing to
contribute when their good will, not just their free, prior and informed
consent, is sought and received.
The rush to exploit resources which we are witnessing in many places not only
puts the natural habitat under stress; there is sometimes little evidence of any
good in political, social or economic terms, in favour of the peoples where such
resources are found. Given the universal destination of the world’s goods, it is
hardly surprising when peoples react to the departure of resources from their
lands, while they see little coming back to those lands in return.
Madam Chair, this is why the Holy See believes that we should all work towards a
consensus adoption of the Declaration; but even the absence of such a consensus
should not be a pretext for delaying the vindication of the legitimate concerns
of indigenous peoples. States have legitimate concerns regarding sovereignty,
citizenship, equality and the sane and equitable exploitation of natural
resources, but these questions should not allow progress on indigenous peoples’
equally legitimate rights and concerns to be postponed sine die.
Thank you, Madam Chair.