Holy See and the United Nations
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|United Nations membership|
|Permanent Observer||Bernardito Auza|
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politics and government of
the Holy See
The Holy See and the United Nations deals with the status of the Holy See within the United Nations system and its activities at or through the United Nations. The Holy See is not a member of the United Nations (not having applied for membership) but was granted permanent observer state (i.e., non-member state) status on 6 April 1964. In that capacity, it has the right to attend all sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council to observe their work. Accordingly, the Holy See has established permanent observer missions in New York and in Geneva and has been able to influence the decisions and recommendations of the United Nations.
- 1 History
- 2 Across the United Nations System
- 3 Multilateral treaties
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Relationship with the League of Nations
During a 1919 conference at the League of Nations, a motion was proposed to encourage international cooperation with the Holy See. The motion, encouraged by delegations in Belgium and Switzerland, was adopted by a majority of participants, although it met resistance from the United Kingdom and Italy. Reports indicated that the Holy See regretted its exclusion and wished to be admitted in the League of Nations.
In 1923 however, the Holy See took a different position and stated that its only competency was in matters of elucidation of questions of principle in morality and public international law. In 1924, the Holy See received an invitation from a British delegate to become a member of the League, but this proposition received no official reaction from other member States.
Non-participation between 1944 and 1964
It would seem undesirable that the question of the membership of the Vatican State be raised now. As a diminutive state the Vatican would not be capable of fulfilling all the responsibilities of membership in an organization whose primary purpose is the maintenance of international peace and security. (...) Membership in the organization would not seem to be consonant with the provisions of Article 24 of the Lateran Treaty, particularly as regards spiritual status and participation in possible use of force. Non-membership would not preclude participation of the Vatican State in social and humanitarian activities of the organization nor impair its traditional role in promotion of peace by its usual influence.
It should be noted, first, that Secretary Hull did not distinguish between the Holy See and the Vatican City State; and, second, that, at the time, membership in the United Nations was still limited to the Allies of World War II. Neither the Holy See nor the Vatican City State chose to apply for UN membership at that time.
Permanent observer since 1964
Since April 6, 1964, the Holy See has been a permanent observer state at the United Nations. In that capacity, the Holy See has since had a standing invitation to attend all the sessions of the General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council to observe their work, and to maintain a permanent observer mission at the UN headquarters in New York. Accordingly, the Holy See has established a Permanent Observer Mission in New York and has sent representatives to all open meetings of the General Assembly and of its Main Committees.
As a matter of diplomatic courtesy, since 1964, the Holy See was also allowed to make formal policy statements in the General Assembly, both during the General Debates and during the discussion of the various separate issues contained in the agenda of the General Assembly. Notably, Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were invited to address the General Assembly.
In addition, the Holy See was invited to observe all open meetings of the intergovernmental subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly. The Holy See was frequently allowed to participate in the private negotiations leading to the adoption of the General Assembly's decisions and resolutions. The Holy See was not allowed, however, to co-sponsor draft decisions or resolutions, to make points of order or to exercise the right of reply. If the Holy See wished to circulate written proposals or position papers, it required the assistance of a member state that was willing to present those proposals or papers as its own.
The Holy See took advantage the prerogatives of its observer status to incorporate its interpretation of Christian values within the decisions and recommendations of the United Nations. Notable was a successful effort, in cooperation with like-minded countries, to ensure the adoption of a United Nations Declaration banning all forms of Human Cloning], and it opposed the adoption of a resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity proposed by the European Union in the General Assembly; a similar UNHRC-specific resolution on LGBT rights proposed by the Republic of South Africa was successfully passed in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
See Change campaign
From 1999, the non-governmental organization, Catholics for Choice, lobbied against the participation of the Holy See in the United Nations. Supporters of this campaign argued that the Holy See is a religious organization and not a state, and that, therefore, it should not have the right to participate, in a position analogous to that of states, in the intergovernmental decision-making process on social, cultural and economic matters. They also cited the lack of equal status for other religions and the Vatican representatives' history of pushing conservative Catholic views on reproductive health.
Confirmed status in 2004
In 2004, the UN General Assembly confirmed the Vatican's status as a Permanent Observer. Currently, the Holy See has the right to participate in the general debate of the General Assembly and to intervene in the discussion of any issue inscribed in the agenda of that assembly. It has the right to participate in all meetings open to all Member States, the right to make points of order and to exercise the right of reply, the right to circulate proposals and position papers as official documents, and the right to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions. Commenting on that resolution, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the then Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations, said "We have no vote because this is our choice." He added that the Holy See considers that its current status "is a fundamental step that does not close any path for the future. The Holy See has the requirements defined by the UN statute to be a member state and, if in the future it wished to be so, this resolution would not impede it from requesting it."
Across the United Nations System
At the United Nations Economic and Social Council
The Holy See is also an observer to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), attending all of its meetings and it is able to make proposals and policy statements regarding of all issues that are of its concern. Since 22 July 1977, the Holy See has had a standing invitation to attend the sessions of ECOSOC's regional commissions on an equal footing with those State Members of the United Nations who are not members of those regional commissions. In addition, the Holy See enjoys full membership in some specialized agencies of the United Nations dependent on ECOSOC such as WIPO, ITU, and UPU. In order to follow the work of those ECOSOC subsidiary bodies and agencies that meet regularly in Geneva, the Holy See has established a Permanent Observer Mission in Geneva.
At the United Nations Security Council
Having observer status at the United Nations, the Holy See is also able to observe all open meetings of the United Nations Security Council. Occasionally, the Holy See has asked to, and has been allowed to make statements in public meetings of the Security Council. The Permanent Observer has spoken on the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, on the regulation of armaments, and on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts. On some occasions, the Holy See has submitted documents to the Security Council, such as the April 29, 2003 statement of Patriarchs and Bishops of Iraq on religious freedom.
Meanwhile, Holy See does not recognize People's Republic of China, a permanent member of UNSC, as a legitimate state.
The Holy See has also been an active participant in the World Conferences on social and economic issues convened by the United Nations. The Holy See had a major impact on the negotiations and outcome of the 1994 Cairo Population Conference, the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, and the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.
Negotiation of multilateral treaties
Since the Holy See is legally capable of ratifying international treaties, and does ratify them, it is invited to participate - on equal footing with States - in the negotiation of most universal International law-making treaties held under the auspices of the United Nations. Being a negotiating party, it is able to make substantive proposals, reject the proposals of other negotiating parties, request a vote, and even vote. The Holy See has participated actively in the negotiation of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the 1997 Terrorist Bombing Convention, and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among others.
Participation in multilateral treaties
The Holy See is a state-party to numerous multilateral treaties:
- Category:Permanent Observers of the Holy See to UNEP and UN-HABITAT
- Multilateral foreign policy of the Holy See
- Foreign relations of the Holy See
- Legal status of the Holy See
- United Nations General Assembly observers
- UN site on Permanent Missions
- Fragmentation and the international relations of micro-states
- quoted IN: James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979) p. 156.
- For the text of the most recent policy statements of the Holy See at the UN General Assembly and subsidiary bodies see: Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, Interventions
- Address of Paul VI to the UN General Assembly, 4 Oct 1965
- Address of John Paul II to the UN General Assembly, 2 Oct 1979 and Address of John Paul II to the UN General Assembly, 5 Oct 1995
- Address of Benedict XVI to the General Assembly, 18 Apr 2008
- The Views of the Holy See on Human Embryonic Cloning, 17 Jul 2003. See also Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See on Human Cloning, 30 Sep 2003 and Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See on Human Cloning, 21 Oct 2004. See generally UNGA Ad Hoc Committee on an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings
- Statement of the Holy See at the 63rd UN General Assembly on the Declaration on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, 18 Dec 2008
- Lewis, Paul (April 4, 1999). "At U.N., Activists Vie With Vatican Over Abortion". The New York Times.
- See: ECOSOC's Rules of Procedure, art. 74,
- ECOSOC decision 244 (LXIII)
- Statement of 19 February 2003
- Statement of 19 November 2008
- Statement 14 January 2009
- Letter dated 2 May 2003 from the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/2003/524
- General Assembly Resolution 58/314, para 1, extends to the Holy See the same procedural rights that it enjoys in the UN General Assembly to all UN Conferences.
- see: United Nations Population Network; in particular: Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994 See also George Weigel, What Really Happened at Cairo, First Things, February 1995
- See: United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women; in particular: Opening statement of the Holy See at the Beijing Conference, 5 Set 1995 and Concluding statement of the Holy See at the Beijing Conference, 15 Set 1995. See also Mary Ann Glendon, What Happened at Beijing, 1996 First Things 59 (January 1996) pp. 30-36.
- See: Holy See Opening Statement at the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on AIDS and Summary of the Statement of the Holy See at the conclusion of the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on AIDS
- The invitation to participate in the negotiation of the treaties commonly takes the form of an all-states formula, that includes not only the Member States of the UN but also the members of its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency. See, for example, the decision to launch negotiations on the 1997 Terrorist Bombing Convention: UNGA Res 51-210, para. 9
- For Treaties deposited with the United Nations Secretary General, see the database of the United Nations Treaty Department. For International Humanitarian Law instruments, see the database of the International Red Cross Committee.
- When the Holy See announced its decision to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it declared that it was doing it in order to "give its moral support to the principles that form the base of the treaty itself."
- When ratifying the 1977 Protocols, the Holy See declared:
its strong conviction as to the fundamentally inhumane nature of war. The humanization of the effects of armed conflicts, such as that undertaken by the two Protocols, is received with favour and encouraged by the Holy See in so far as it aims to alleviate human suffering and strives, amid unbridled passions and evil forces, to safeguard the basic principles of humanity and the supreme benefits of civilization. The Holy See expresses, moreover, its firm belief that the ultimate goal, that which is worthy of the calling of man and of human civilization, is the abolition of war. One cannot help thinking that the measures embodied in the Geneva Conventions and more recently by the two Additional Protocols - measures which are already in themselves frail instruments for the protection of victims of conventional armed conflicts - would prove to be not only insufficient but totally inadequate in the face of the ruinous devastation of a nuclear war. (Holy See's 21 Nov 1985 declaration at the Ratification of Optional Protocols I and II)