By Robin Gomes
The Holy See has been accorded a non-Member State Observer status by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations specialized health agency, a proof of the Church’s involvement and commitment to issues concerning the human family. “On Monday, 31 May 2021, the World Health Assembly adopted, by consensus, Resolution “Participation of the Holy See in the World Health Organization” presented by Italy, which formalizes the participation of the Holy See in the work of the World Health Organization as a non-Member State Observer,” said the Holy See Press Office in a statement on Tuesday. It said, “This decision reflects the relationship that the Holy See has continuously maintained with this Organization since 1953 and it bears witness to the commitment of the family of nations in addressing, through dialogue and international solidarity, the global health challenges that afflict humanity.”
The WHO’s 74th World Health Assembly (WHA74), which took place online from May 24-31, adopted more than 30 resolutions and decisions in different areas of public health. The draft resolution on the Holy See’s Observer status was presented at the Assembly on May 26. It noted that that the Holy See has been regularly attending the sessions of the Health Assembly as an Observer since 1953, and has also been a Permanent Observer State at the United Nations since 1964.
Besides, the Holy See also has representations at Observer missions at the UN Offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Vienna, Austria.
71 countries backed the resolution
The resolution “Participation of the Holy See in the World Health Organization”, presented by Italy, was adopted by consensus by the World Health Assembly. It was co-sponsored by 71 countries from all geographical areas of the world: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Eswatini, Philippines, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malta, Morocco, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Republic of Korea, Romania,
Italy: Holy See an added value
The Italian government regards the Holy See’s Permanent Observer status at the WHO as a recognition of the important role played by the Holy See in the humanitarian and health fields, particularly in developing countries and most recently in the fight against the pandemic. “I am convinced that the Holy See, which has been providing assistance for years through the organizations of the Catholic Church to millions of needy people around the world, will bring precious value to the World Organization of Health and will further strengthen the spirit of solidarity on a global level. It will be a great inspiration for all Member States,” said Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio.
What is an Observer status?
According to the Annex of the WHA resolution, the Holy See, as a non-Member State Observer, shall be accorded in the sessions and work of the Health Assembly, the Executive Board and the Programme, Budget and Administration Committee of the Executive Board, the rights and privileges of participation” as set forth in the Annex of the resolution.
Most importantly, unlike a Member State, the Holy See, as a non-Member Observer, does “not have the right to vote or to put forward candidates”.
According to the Annex, the Holy See has the right to participate in the general debate of the WHO’s World Health. It can make interventions and be inscribed on the list of speakers, without prejudice to the priority of Member States, at any plenary meeting of the Health Assembly, in its main committees, in the Executive Board as well as in the Programme, Budget and Administration Committee of the Executive Board. The Holy See can reply and raise points involving the Holy See, without challenging the decision of the presiding officer. It has the right to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions that make reference to the Holy See. In the assembly hall, the seat of the Holy See will be immediately after Member States.