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The question of self determination for indigenous people in the countries of the Pacific was one of the major issues raised at the World Congress on the Pastoral Promotion of Human Rights in Rome earlier this month.

The Congress was called by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and was attended by some 200 delegates from all over the world. Australia was represented by Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta, who is Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, and Ms Sandie Cornish, Chief Executive Officer of the Council. The Pacific area's representative was Ms. Marie-Claire Baccalossi, from New Caledonia, a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The issue of self determination was raised by the three representatives from the Pacific area in the course of a Report on human rights in the Pacific region. The Report said that indigenous peoples have suffered by having their lands expropriated, by being the object of racism and discrimination, by enduring lower life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality than the general population and disproportionately higher rates of imprisonment. They are in a poor position, said the Report to determine their own future.

The Pacific Report, one of a number from regions around the world, also identified environmental issues such as nuclear testing and global climate change, the impact of tourism, migration and unemployment. Indigenous people, migrants, women and children are those most acutely affected.

The Congress also reflected on specific pastoral initiatives taken by local Churches in response to human fights abuses. Speakers were from Bosnia-Herzagovina, Guatemala, South Africa and Korea.

Mass was celebrated in St. Peter's on the final day of the Congress. After Mass the delegates attended an audience with the Holy Father, who addressed them on the topic of human fights.

The Congress was closed by Archbishop van Thuan, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who has this year replaced Cardinal Etchegaray in that position.