Observer status is a privilege granted by some organizations to non-members to give them an ability to participate in the organization's activities. Observer status is often granted by intergovernmental organizations (IGO) to non-member states and international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) that have an interest in the IGO's activities. Observers generally have a limited ability to participate in the IGO, lacking the ability to vote or propose resolutions.
The United Nations General Assembly may grant entities observer status. The United Nations welcomes many international agencies, entities, and one non-member state as observers. Observers have the right to speak at United Nations General Assembly meetings, but not to vote on resolutions.
Non-member observer states are recognized as sovereign states, and are free to submit a petition to join as a full member at their discretion. At present, the Holy See and Palestine are the only observer states at the United Nations, although Switzerland also maintained such status until it became a member state. Among others the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also has observer status, although not as a state but as an entity.
Observer status is granted by a United Nations General Assembly resolution at some point in time. Other international organizations (including other UN agencies) may also grant observer status.
World Health Organization
As defined in the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution, observer status is a status which the World Health Assembly (WHA) may grant to "any organization, international or national, governmental or non-governmental, which has responsibilities related to those of the Organization." It allows representatives of the grantee to participate in meetings and committees held by the World Health Organization, without granting the right to vote.
The State of Palestine, the Holy See, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta currently hold observer status in the World Health Organization..From 29 November 2012, Palestine has also become a non-member observer state.
Republic of China
From 1997 to 2008, the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan) applied for observer status in the WHO every year, under different names including "Republic of China", "Taiwan Health Entity" and "Taiwan". All these efforts failed, mainly due to firm objections from the People's Republic of China (PRC) which does not recognize the ROC and considers Taiwan as one of its provinces. The Cross-Strait Relations (between the PRC and ROC governments) have significantly improved in 2008 and 2009, and the PRC government agreed to negotiate over this issue. On April 29, 2009, the WHO invited the Department of Health of the ROC to attend the 2009 World Health Assembly under "Chinese Taipei", a compromised name which both the PRC and ROC accept.
- See List of current Permanent Representatives to the United Nations. The three permanent observers are listed at the bottom of the alphabetical list of permanent representatives.
- "Permanent Observers". United Nations. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
- WHO invites Taiwan to attend World Health Assembly as observer, Xinhua News Agency.