october 11, 2019
Statement on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza

Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

Seventy-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Third Committee agenda item 69 (a, b): Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New York, 11 October 2019


Mr. Chair,

In her recent report, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples affirms that “several countries have formally recognized the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy or self-government, whether through the inclusion of provisions in constitutions or in ordinary law, or through a formal treaty, agreement or constructive arrangement between the States and indigenous peoples.”[1]

While these types of provisions and their fulfilment depend on a number of factors, it is a welcome fact that several Member States have taken active steps to recognize the right to autonomy or self-government of indigenous peoples. Not only do these concrete actions provide a mutually beneficial framework for the engagement between the State government and the indigenous people, but they also contribute to the recognition and realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, their extraordinary cultural and spiritual patrimony, and their valuable contribution to broader society and the common good.

For this reason, Pope Francis has stated that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”[2] It is the indigenous peoples that care best for their own patrimonial land and living traditions. In some places, however, indigenous peoples are under tremendous pressures to sell their ancestral land, or, in some cases, they are forced by outside interests to abandon their homes without their “free, prior and informed consent,” as called for in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Concretely, the formal recognition of the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy or self-government greatly contributes to promoting and pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including “the right to maintain and strengthen the distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions of indigenous peoples and the right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State”.[3]

Additionally, through the adoption of Resolution 71/178, the UN General Assembly declared 2019 as the “International Year of Indigenous Languages”, calling on the international community to advance efforts “to preserve, promote and revitalize” indigenous languages, so often in danger of extinction. The preservation of these languages are important not only for the indigenous peoples themselves, but also for the preservation and fostering of their cultural heritage for the entire human family. The aforementioned Declaration provides that “indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures…” and that “States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected…”[4]

The Holy See hopes that the coming 19th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) will provide space for the evaluation of this “International Year of Indigenous Languages” and highlight both its successes and shortcomings at the local, national and international levels.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.




[1] A/74/149, p. 12.

[2] Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 146.

[3] UNGA resolution 73/156, 17 December 2018.

[4] Article 13.