CANCUN, Mexico — The Vatican’s U.N. nuncio told Latin American leaders June 21 that at the “heart of human rights” is the recognition that “all people are born with inherent equal dignity and worth and have a fundamental right to life.”

“Unfortunately,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said, “the right to life of the unborn, of migrants in search of safety, of victims of armed conflicts, of the poor, of the handicapped, of the elderly and the right to life of those facing the death penalty continues to be ignored, dismissed and debated rather than prioritized.”

Auza is the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations and to the Organization of American States. He made the comments in an intervention he delivered during the 47th session of the OAS General Assembly. He spoke during a debate on “Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.”

The archbishop hoped the choice of the debate topic would lead to a “deeper understanding of the global human rights challenges we face today” and to “more holistic responses” to those challenges.

Regarding the rule of law, Auza said it is meant “to fulfill a role beyond maintaining harmony and order.” It is meant to be “an exemplary teacher,” he said, and is tightly tied to “the protection of human rights.”

The Vatican “encourages the OAS to continue and further its efforts in the hemisphere to promote universal and inalienable human rights,” he said. “The pillars of integral human development — such as dignified housing, properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water, as well as fundamental human freedoms and spiritual goods — have their common foundation in the right to life.”

Without the right to life, “human existence is impossible,” he added.

He praised initiatives that “practical resources and on-the-ground assessments focused on ensuring access to justice for people in vulnerable situations, including detainees, indigent persons, refugees and other displaced persons.”

He said the Vatican delegation at the assembly was particularly concerned with how government and the courts treat “those illegally detained, those unjustly accused, those with physical and mental disabilities, and those who have no advocate, no political influence and no resources to vindicate their rights.

“Legal guarantees and practical norms must be had to help these categories of persons find recognition and protection within the legal system,” he said.

He also emphasized the connection between the rule of law and the freedom of opinion and expression, as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The imprisonment and murder of journalists, researchers or activists is often a signal that some powerful interest is trying to evade accountability, which is against human rights, against democracy and against the rule of law,” he said.