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Statement on Inequality & Human Rights to Pope Francis by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas of Vanuatu on behalf of the Pacific Region
AUDIENCE BETWEEN THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM LEADERS AND 
HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
 
Pacific Island Leaders’ – Vatican Audience
Saturday, 11 November 2017
Vatican, Italy
 
Holy Father,
 
I would like to raise an issue close to the hearts of people in our region – that of inequality and human rights.
 
One in four people live below their national basic-needs poverty line; and have limited access to essential services such as education and health services. These issues become more prominent with the rapidly shifting social and economic landscape from traditional systems in all sectors of the economy to market-led cash-based systems.
 
The volatility in economic growth trends across the region have been further exacerbated in recent years by the unprecedented frequency of strengthening natural disasters which have crippled island economies – an example being my island home Vanuatu which was hit by a Category 4 Tropical Cyclone in 2015. 
 
Relatedly, Laudato Si firmly and unequivocally characterises climate change as a human rights issue calling for radical and urgent transformation of global politics and individual lifestyles to combat it. 
 
Globally, the rise in the number of migrants seeking to escape increasing inequality and poverty brought on by environmental degradation is indeed tragic. In the Pacific region in particular, the issue of climate migration is now a reality. 
 
Island States have begun discussions on the options for re-location and re-settlement. We remain cognisant of the fact that re-location and re-settlement will introduce multi-dimensional issues that will need to be addressed. We echo the call of Laudato Si for the acceleration of international conventions that recognise climate refugees so as to ensure basic elements such as legal protection in new states. 
 
Stronger and more decisive global and international politics is essential to tackle the increasingly diverse issues relating to human rights. On a related matter, may I take this opportunity to reflect on an issue close to my heart – that of the alleged violations of human rights in West Papua.
 
We cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the long-standing allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua. In 2016, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, in recognition of the importance of this issue, agreed that this issue remain on their agenda. 
 
Holy Father, at its core, Laudato Si urges the recognition of the vulnerable at all levels of society. The issue of West Papua continues to elude a formal international review mechanism because of the political sensitivities surrounding this issue and I must reaffirm the need for stronger and more decisive global politics to address the most critical issues that impact our societies and our people. 
 
As we have seen, the politics surrounding climate change has not been sufficient, this we are sure of. However, we remain hopeful that COP 23 will set the tone for a more ambitious and decisive COP 24 in Poland.
 
In conclusion, Holy Father, may I reiterate the gratitude of the delegation before you today in accepting us in Audience. We continually look forward to your strong advocacy and support to our region on the issues we have raised today and we invite you to visit us to witness first-hand not only the challenges we face, but more importantly the warmth and hospitality of our Pacific people.
 
We thank you.
 
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