Indigenous Peoples should be treated as dignified partners whose free, prior and informed consent should be sought in all matters concerning them, said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. He stressed the need for an agreed definition of “indigenous peoples” that pertains across various contexts.
His remarks came on October 12, 2017, during the Third Committee debate on Agenda Item 69, dedicated to the “Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” at the United Nations in New York.
The statement follows
Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-second Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee
Agenda Item 69: Rights of indigenous peoples
New York, 12 October 2017
This past April we marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. During the high-level event organized by the President of the General Assembly to mark the occasion, States spoke alongside representatives of indigenous peoples from around the world, to reaffirm their commitment to the values and collective rights of indigenous peoples enshrined in the Declaration. That important and concrete example of solidarity should exemplify the way forward to make the participation and integration of indigenous peoples within the work of the United Nations more meaningful and effective.
Indigenous peoples should be treated as dignified partners, whether within this United Nations system or in their relationship with States and society at large. This is not simply an idea, but the application of the duty of States, as enshrined within the Declaration, to consult with and to seek the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples in all matters concerning them.  The just demand of the indigenous peoples that nothing should be done about them without them should be given utmost consideration.
In practice, this means upholding the collective right of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources. By doing so, we guarantee not only that their voices are heard, but that indigenous peoples are given the political, economic and social space necessary to affirm their identity and to become agents of their own development and destiny. We also ensure that redress and true reconciliation between States and their indigenous populations can be achieved for the good of both parties and for the common good of the whole nation.
Along these lines, the Holy See believes that to promote the true development of indigenous peoples, there must be a harmonization of their right to their own cultural and social development alongside economic development.
Therefore, my Delegation continues to encourage national policies that require consultations and the explicit consent of indigenous peoples, based on the principle of subsidiarity, before development, mining or other projects in their ancestral lands are approved and implemented. Moreover, we welcome the development of guidelines and projects that respect indigenous identity. This means recognizing that indigenous communities are a part of the population and that their participation should be promoted and encouraged at the local, regional and national levels, preventing their further marginalization.
Recently, the General Assembly concluded another round of consultations on ways to enhance further the participation of the representatives of indigenous peoples in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies on issues affecting them. My Delegation welcomes the constructive engagement that occurred not just among States, but between States and the representatives of indigenous peoples as equal partners in the process.
My Delegation believes, however, that more can be done and done better. Continued dialogue, specifically toward an agreed definition of “indigenous peoples,” is needed if progress is to be made during future consultations. It is important to emphasize that States must not only dialogue with indigenous peoples here at the United Nations, but at the national and regional levels if agreement is to be reached in the future.
in closing, let me repeat Pope Francis’ fervent summons that all should respect indigenous peoples, who are often threatened in their identity and even in their existence.  At this time, when much of humanity continues to err by not caring for our common home, Pope Francis emphasized, the faithful witness of indigenous peoples to a healthy relationship with nature is perhaps saving us from destroying the earth, the environment, and the ecological balance. Thus, they deserve our gratitude and support.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. See Articles 11, 19, 28 and 29 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
2. Pope Prayer Video, Indigenous Peoples, July, 2016
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