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Holy See and the United Nations

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Holy See / Vatican City State
Flag of the United Nations.svg
Flag of the Vatican City.svg
United Nations membership
MembershipPermanent observer
Since1964 (1964)
Permanent ObserverGabriele Giordano Caccia
Vatican City
This article is part of a series on
Vatican City

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.[1] 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.


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.[2]

When it became clear that the ongoing territorial dispute with Italy (resolved with 1929's Lateran Treaty) precluded it from joining the League, the Vatican supported the activities of l'Union Catholique d'Etudes Internationales, a lobby group whose members mainly comprised Catholic activists employed as League officials. Prominent members included Gonzague de Reynold and Oskar Halecki, while the League's first and second Secretaries-General, Eric Drummond and Joseph Avenol, were sympathetic to the organisation's aims. The group had particular success in promoting the Holy See's vision of international affairs within the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, forerunner to UNESCO.[3]

Non-participation between 1944 and 1964

In 1944, the Holy See made tentative enquiries about the possibility of becoming a UN Member. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull replied that:

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.[4]

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

Seal of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.
Seal of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Since 6 April 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.[1] 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.[5] Notably, popes Paul VI,[6] John Paul II,[7][8] Benedict XVI,[9] and Francis[10] 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 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,[11][12][13][14][15] 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.[16]

Opposition to status

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 Catholic views on reproductive health.[17]

Confirmed status in 2004

In 2004, the UN General Assembly confirmed the Holy See'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 its status, 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."[18]

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 able to make proposals and policy statements regarding of all issues that are of its concern.[19] 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.[20] 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 and been allowed to make statements in public meetings of the Security Council. The Permanent Observer spoke against war in Iraq shortly before the invasion,[21] on the regulation of armaments,[22] and on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts.[23] On some occasions, the Holy See has submitted documents to the Security Council, such as the 29 April 2003 statement of Patriarchs and Bishops of Iraq on religious freedom.[24]

Meanwhile, the Holy See does not recognize People's Republic of China, a permanent member of UNSC, as a legitimate state.

At the world conferences on social and economic issues

The Holy See has also been an active participant in the World Conferences on social and economic issues convened by the United Nations.[25] It had a major impact on the negotiations and outcome of the 1994 Cairo Population Conference,[26] the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women,[27] and the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.[28]

Multilateral treaties

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.[29] 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:[30][31]

Treaty Date of signature Date of ratification, accession or acceptance
1864 Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field 9 May 1868
1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property 21 Jul 1960
1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works 19 Jul 1935
1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare 18 Oct 1966
1936 International Convention concerning the Use of Broadcasting in the Cause of Peace 5 Jan 1967
1949 First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field 08 Dec 1949 22 Feb 1951
1949 Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea 08 Dec 1949 22 Feb 1951
1949 Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War 08 Dec 1949 22 Feb 1951
1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 08 Dec 1949 22 Feb 1951
1949 Protocol on Road Signs and Signals 1 Oct 1956
1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 24 Feb 1958
1954 Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 24 Feb 1958
1955 Agreement on Signs for Road Works, amending the European Agreement of 16 September 1950 supplementing the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic and the 1949 Protocol on Road Signs and Signals 1 Oct 1956
1956 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 21 May 1952 15 Mar 1956
1951 Convention on the Recovery Abroad of Maintenance 20 Jun 1956 5 Oct 1964
1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 14 May 1975
1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1975 Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 7 Jan 1976
1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 24 Apr 1963 8 Oct 1970
1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 21 Nov 1966 1 May 1969
1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 8 Jun 1967
1967 Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization 14 Jul 14 1967 20 Jan 1975
1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [32] 25 Feb 1971
1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 30 Sep 1969 25 Feb 1977
1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances 21 Feb 1971 7 Jan 1976
1971 Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms 29 Oct 1971 4 Apr 1977
1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 25 Mar 1972 7 Jan 1976
1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention) 04 Jan 2002
1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 07 Oct 1982
1976 Protocol to the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials of 22 November 1950 22 Feb 1980
1977 Protocol I relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts[33] 12 Dec 1977 21 Nov 1985
1977 Protocol II relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts 12 Dec 1977 21 Nov 1985
1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) 22 Jul 1997
1980 Protocol I to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons on Non-Detectable Fragments 22 Jul 1997
1980 Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices 22 Jul 1997
1980 Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weaponson Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons 22 Jul 1997
1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 20 Apr 1990 20 Apr 1990
1990 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 5 May 2008
1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction 14 Jan 1993 12 May 1999
1992 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 5 May 2008
1992 Amendment to article 8 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 14 Mar 2002
1993 Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention) 14 Jan 1993 12 May 1999
1993 Amendments to the 1980 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons 22 Jul 1997
1995 Amendment to article 43 (2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 15 Aug 1996
1995 Protocol IV on Blinding Laser Weapons to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects 22 Jul 1997
1995 Grains Trade Convention 20 Jun 1995 28 Jun 1995
1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty 24 Sep 1996 18 Jul 2001
1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction 4 Dec 1997 17 Feb 1998
2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict 10 Oct 2000 24 Oct 2001
2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography 10 Oct 2000 24 Oct 2001
2003 Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects on Explosive Remnants of War 13 Dec 2005
2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions 3 Dec 2008 3 Dec 2008
2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons[34] 20 Sep 2017 20 Sep 2017

See also


  1. ^ a b "Non-member States". United Nations. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  2. ^ Jorri Duursma (31 October 1996). Fragmentation and the International Relations of Micro-states: Self-determination and Statehood. Cambridge University Press. p. 399. ISBN 978-0-521-56360-4.
  3. ^ Shine, Cormac (2018). "Papal Diplomacy by Proxy? Catholic Internationalism at the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History.
  4. ^ quoted IN: James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979) p. 156.
  5. ^ For statements by the Holy See Mission made after 2003: The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. "Statements of the Holy See Mission". Archived from the original on 9 October 2003. Retrieved 22 March 2017. Statements from 1987 to 2003 can be found at
  6. ^ "Visita alle Nazioni Unite: Discorso all'Organizzazione delle Nazioni Unite (4 ottobre 1965) | Paolo VI". 1965-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  7. ^ "Address of John Paul II to the UN General Assembly, 2 Oct 1979". 2 October 1979. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  8. ^ "Address of John Paul II to the UN General Assembly, 5 Oct 1995". 5 October 1995. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  9. ^ "Address of Benedict XVI to the General Assembly, 18 Apr 2008". 18 Apr 2008. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  10. ^ "Address to United Nations General Assembly - Pope Francis Visit 2015". Pope Francis Visit 2015. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  11. ^ "Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 8 March 2005 – United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning". United Nations. 8 March 2005. A/RES/59/280. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  12. ^ "The Views of the Holy See on Human Embryonic Cloning". July 17, 2003. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008.
  13. ^ Holy See Mission (30 September 2003). "Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N. on Agenda Item 158: International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings New York, 30 September 2003". Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  14. ^ Holy See Mission (21 October 2004). "Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Before the Sixth Committee, on item 150: International convention Against the reproductive cloning of human beings New York, 21 October 2004". Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  15. ^ "Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings". Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Statement of the Holy See at the 63rd UN General Assembly on the Declaration on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity". 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  17. ^ Lewis, Paul (April 4, 1999). "At U.N., Activists Vie With Vatican Over Abortion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-23.
  18. ^ "Vatican's Role at UN Unanimously Endorsed by General Assembly". 9 July 2004. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Rules of Procedure of the Economic and Social Council". United Nations. E/5715/Rev.2. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Invitation to the Holy See to attend sessions of the regional commissions". 22 July 1977. Decision 244 (LXIII). E/6020. Retrieved 22 March 2017. At its 2078th meeting, on 22 July 1977, the Council decided to recommend the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Economic Commission for Latin America, the Economic Commission for Africa and the Economic Commission for Western Asia to invite the Holy See to attend sessions of these commissions on a basis similar to that provided for in the relevant terms of reference applicable to States Members of the United Nations not members of the commissions.
  21. ^ Holy See Mission (19 February 2003). "Statement by Archbishop Celestino Migliore Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations at the Meeting of the Security Council under Agenda Item: The Situation between Iraq and Kuwait". New York. Retrieved 22 March 2017. On the issue of Iraq, the vast majority of the international community is calling for a diplomatic resolution of the dispute and for exploring all avenues for a peaceful settlement. That call should not be ignored.
  22. ^ Holy See Mission (19 November 2008). "Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, United Nations Security Council Open debate in connection with agenda item: "Maintenance of international peace and security: Strengthening collective security through general regulation and reduction of armaments"". New York.
  23. ^ Holy See Mission (14 January 2009). "Statement by H.E. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, before the United Nations Security Council, during the open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflicts". New York.
  24. ^ "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". 5 May 2003. S/2003/524. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  25. ^ "General Assembly Resolution 58/314". 1 July 2003. Retrieved 22 March 2017. Paragraph 1 extends to the Holy See the same procedural rights that it enjoys in the UN General Assembly to all UN Conferences.
  26. ^ 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 Archived 2011-06-10 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ 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
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ For Treaties deposited with the United Nations Secretary General, consult the database: "Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General". Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  31. ^ "Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries - Holy See". Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  32. ^ 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."
  33. ^ 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)

  34. ^ Bernardito Auza (October 10, 2017). Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza (PDF) (Speech). General Debate of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. New York. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
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