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  • Human Rights Research Center

Vatican Rejects 'Doctrine of Discovery'

April 7, 2023

Photo: Indigenous people of the Yanomami ethnic group, in a camp in Brasília, capital of Brazil, in 2018 [Image credit: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil]

Cited article by UN News

HRRC supports the Vatican's rejection of the 'Doctrine of Discovery'. The removal of this doctrine is a step towards reconciliation for the damage caused by colonization. Further, by rejecting the doctrine, the Catholic Church is taking an ethical stance, sending a message to other countries that utilize the doctrine as a basis for national law that they are violating the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Article Summary

The Vatican rejected the 'Doctrine of Discovery', a 500-year-old doctrine that was used to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands by colonial powers. The rejection of this doctrine is a key step towards reconciliation and recognizing colonization's damaging effects. When implemented, this doctrine was interpreted to give European powers unilateral rights to lay claim over Indigenous lands and resources.

The primary basis of European rights to colonize rested in the belief that Indigenous cultures lacked civilization or religion. Yet, it's effects have been devastating to future generations. According to, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay, colonization is "among the root causes of intergenerational trauma suffered by Indigenous Peoples, as currently manifested in high rates of suicide among youth, over-representation in the criminal justice system, disproportionate violence against women and girls, and racial discrimination."


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