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WHO Grants Permanent Observer Status to Holy See

The WHO’s 74th World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on Monday granting the Holy See a non-Member State Observer status.

The Holy See has been accorded a non-Member State Observer status by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday, May 31. This serves as proof of the Church’s involvement and commitment to issues concerning the human family.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted, by consensus, the resolution “Participation of the Holy See in the World Health Organization” presented by Italy. It formalizes the participation of the Holy See in the work of the World Health Organization as a non-Member State Observer.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Holy See Press Office 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.”

An Added Value

The WHA74 commenced on 24 May 2021 and concluded its sessions on 31 May 2021. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the event was held virtually. (Photo from WHO | World Health Organization)

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. (Read: Holy See Calls for Peaceful Solutions to Belarus Conflict)

“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?

World Health Organization leaders at a press briefing on COVID-19, held on March 6, 2020 at WHO headquarters in Geneva. (Photo from Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images/NPR)

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”. (Read: PH Marks 70 Years of Diplomatic Ties With Holy See)

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.


Text by Robin Gomes of Vatican News.

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