October 17
Third Committee Agenda Item 65: Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

Seventy-first Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Third Committee Agenda Item 65: Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New York, 17 October 2016

Madam Chair,

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across roughly 90 countries worldwide.[1] Though they make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, they represent countless years of invaluable human and cultural experience. The International Community relies on their knowledge and unique approach to development as an essential reference point in the care of our common home and of humanity. For that reason, their ongoing struggle to preserve their heritage, language, religious traditions, and livelihoods through the realization of their right to self-determination is not only their concern, but a concern for the entire world.

Their cultural experiences and means of livelihood are under grave threat within the current international social and economic paradigm. An economy driven largely by motives of profit and individual gain rather than responsibility for the neighbor, the environment and the common good has left the indigenous peoples further and further behind. Their traditional homelands, with which they are both physically and spiritually in communion, are taken without consultation. Extractive companies, public works, and even well-intentioned land conservationists often displace them. Uprooted from their homes and traditional lands, they experience higher rates of poverty, unemployment, social and food insecurity than non-indigenous populations, constituting nearly 15 percent of the world’s poor in spite of their being only 5 percent of the world’s population.[2]

In his meeting with a large number of indigenous groups in Bolivia, Pope Francis observed: “It is essential that, along with the defence of their legitimate rights, [indigenous] peoples and their social organizations be able to construct a humane alternative to a globalization which excludes.” The indigenous are not only beneficiaries of such an alternative approach; they also become protagonists of their own development.[3] Their voices are crucial to any such conversation.

Madam Chair,

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are at the heart of the International Community’s renewed effort to change the current global narrative of exclusion and lay out concrete solutions to the scourges of poverty, climate change, environmental waste and degradation. The indigenous peoples must be at the heart of the implementation of both the Agenda and the Agreement. They must be players and not spectators of the process of implementation. They must be active agents and not passive beneficiaries of the achievements that will come from an effective, participative implementation of both. The indigenous peoples justly demand not only respect for their rights in the implementation process, but also the need to adapt and integrate indigenous knowledge into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions.

To make this happen, the participation of the indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies must be further strengthened, especially on those issues that directly affect them. In this regard, my Delegation recommends that the timely, inclusive, representative and transparent consultations that were held with Member States and the representatives of the indigenous peoples during the 70th Session of the General Assembly be pursued with greater vigor in the intergovernmental negotiations during the current session.
Madam Chair,

As Pope Francis has said, “No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice.”

We must ensure that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and other international commitments actively involve and effectively benefit the indigenous peoples throughout the world. Only then could we truly say that we have fulfilled our collective promise of leaving no one behind.

Thank you, Madam Chair.