Third Committee General Debate
of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly
New York, October 1, 2021
I congratulate you and the Bureau on your election and would like to assure you of the Holy See’s support during the work of this session. My Delegation would like to make the following points related to agenda items 28, 29, 70, 71, 74, and 109.
Item 28: Social development
Mr. Chair, as the Holy See stated during the General Debate of the 76thsession of the United Nations General Assembly, development programs must “remain at the service of men and women, particularly those on the margins of society.” We have made significant improvements in addressing poverty, hunger, education, and health needs. Yet work remains, and the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our progress toward sustainable development, especially for those in vulnerable situations. Social support systems have been strained, access to healthcare limited even further, and many have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Tens of millions of people have been pushed into poverty and millions of children now experience food insecurity. Migrants have endured job loss, travel restrictions discrimination and xenophobia. Older persons have suffered both due to vulnerability to COVID-19 and isolation. The pandemic has also “heightened existing barriers to gaining access to basic necessities and has raised new ones” for people with disabilities, further affecting their ability to obtain needed assistance and participate fully in their communities. It will take sustained effort to address these problems and their underlying causes, many of which predate the pandemic, as well as to ensure access to vaccines for all,as part of pandemic response and recovery.
To succeed in our work, we need to strengthen and support the family, which is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” The family provides the best environment for childhood development, with mothers and fathers contributing uniquely to their children’s development and with children naturally deserving the attention and dedication of a mother and a father. Social protection initiatives, therefore should focus much more on the family and on the help families may need, especially in light of the challenges posed by the pandemic, such as increased financial stress and disruptions in schooling.
Item 74: Promotion and protection of human rights
As the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action states, “All human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person.” Human rights law is grounded in this dignity. The Holy See is therefore deeply concerned over persistent efforts to assert novel concepts as rightsthat do not enjoy consensus and often lack even common definitions. Such an approach does not advance human rights but politicizes and dilutes them, privileging the strong over the weak and promoting ideology over of the truth.
This is nowhere more apparent than in the refusal to recognize the inherent value and dignity of each human life at every stage and in every condition. This denial leads to grave inequalities and injustices, such as disposing of children in the womb, treating the lives of the elderly and persons with disabilities as burdens, ignoring the plight of refugees,and the imposition of the death penalty. As Pope Francis has stressed, “Laws exist, not to cause death, but to protect life and to facilitate co-existence among human beings.” The Holy See is also concerned by efforts to marginalize religion in public life, treating it as a purely private concernrather than a fundamental right that should not be banned from the public sphere. We must refocus our efforts on promoting universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all members of the human family, which is part of the common good and is essential to achieving development, justice, and peace.
Item 70: Promotion and protection of the rights of children
Children need special care and protection. The Holy See welcomes continued developments in legal protections for children and encourages continued improvements in their implementation. In contrast to these gains, violence against children, exploitation, trafficking, child labor and child marriage have all disturbingly increased during the pandemic. This has particularly affected girls, who remain less likely to be enrolled in school. The Internet also poses unique risks to child safety, including online sexual abuse, exploitation, and cyberbullying, which some reports indicate have increased during the pandemic. We must work together to address these problems and their underlying causes, recognizing that different contexts require different interventions and that educationremains critical to develop children’s abilities, help break cycles of poverty, and promote cohesive societies where women are key players along with men.
The Holy See, however, remains deeply troubled by the furtherance of policies that undermine the well being of children. Some countries and international institutions have promoted abortion as an “essential service” during the pandemic as if ending the life of a child in the womb could legitimately be considered as “essential” and as a “service.” In complete denial of the reality of abortion, many continue to push this inhumane practice as a human right, instead of promoting alternatives to support pregnant women who find themselves in situations of hardship. We likewise regret that the report on the gender dimension of the sexual exploitation of children uses a non-negotiated definition of gender and promotes sexuality education, both of which will confuse, and harm, at an impressionable age,precisely those we aim to defend.
Item 29: Advancement of women
Mr. Chair, the world has made great strides toward attaining equality between women and girls and men and boys. Nevertheless, “violence towards women remains an open wound everywhere,”and troubling reports indicate that COVID-19 has increased violence against women while limiting access to support tand reporting mechanisms. Violence against women constitutes a global emergency with enormous consequences for the health and lives of women and girls, but also for families, communities, and society. The prevalence of violence during pregnancy is of special concern due to the negative consequences for both mother and child. Moreover, progress in ending harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, has slowed, also posing a grave risk to women and girls.
These problems cannot be separated from the broader concern of a widespreaddehumanizing vision of the human person that especially degrades women. Many women today are victims of a hedonistic and consumerist culture that reduces women to sexual objects and their bodies to products, such as in pornography, prostitution, surrogacy, and human trafficking. We cannot claim to stand for women’s equality while supporting any of these practices. Nor should we be satisfied with an “equality” that requires women to conform to norms that treat their unique childbearing capacity as an obstacle rather than a gift.
Item 71: Rights of indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples and communities are often among those hit hardest by the crises of our time, be it poverty, COVID-19, or climate change. Their cultural, political, economic, social, and fundamentalhuman rights are often undermined. The exploitation of their lands is a human rights issue, not just an environmental one. As natural resources are extracted and indigenous lands destroyed, indigenous peoples are forced to migrate, exposing them to new human rights violations such as trafficking and forced labor, sexual exploitation, and other forms of subjection and poverty. In keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, indigenous peoples cannot be left out of decisions made about their lives and their lands, nor can their rights be ignored for economic gain.
With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous peoples and communities deserve solutions and support tailored to their specific needs and requests. This failure in solidarity in favor of a one-size-fits-all approach poses the threat of a new kind of colonialism, as Pope Francis has often articulated.
Item 109: Countering the use of information and communication technologies for criminal purposes
The Holy See is greatly concerned about the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes, threatening both security and human dignity and rights. Grave crimes such as trafficking in persons and child pornography are often committed in the digital sphere, enjoying longevity in a way that “analog” crimes do not, contributing to impunity for many perpetrators while victims’ cries for justice go unanswered.
Given the potential for information and communications technologies to be misused for criminal purposes, the Holy See supports the elaboration of a framework of international standards to guide the use of such technologies for the good of humanity.
Mr. Chair, the pandemic has necessitated many changes, but it can never justify disregardfor human dignity or the suspension of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. International consensus requires setting aside ideological conceptions of the human person in which dignity, rights and freedoms are not respected. As we commence our work, we must all commit to working together in good faith toward this noble goal. The Holy See assures all delegations of our commitment to do so.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Remarks during the General Debate of the 76thSession of the United Nations General Assembly, 25 September 2021.
Report of the Secretary-General on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto: participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making processes, A/74/147, paragraph 2.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 16(3).See also International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 10(1).
See, e.g., Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes, A/76/61, paragraph 44.
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Preamble, paragraph 2.
Letter Samaritanus Bonus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life, 22 September 2020
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, A/76/144, paragraph 6.
Id.paragraphs 7, 41, 79.
Pope Francis, General Audience, 22 September 2021.
See, e.g., Message of the Holy Father Francis to the Organizers and Participants at the Fifth Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, 2 February 2021; Fratelli Tutti Encyclical Letter (2020), paragraphs 14, 173; Pope Francis, Querida Amazonia Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (2020) paragraph 14.