United Nations General Assembly observers
The United Nations General Assembly may grant observer status to an international organization, entity or non-member state, which entitles the entity to participate in the work of the United Nations General Assembly, though with limitations. The General Assembly may determine what privileges it grants with the observer status, beyond those laid down in a 1986 Conference on treaties between States and International Organizations. Exceptionally, the EU was granted in 2011 the right to speak in debates, to submit proposals and amendments, the right of reply, to raise points of order and to circulate documents, etc. As of May 2011[update], the EU was the only international organisation to hold these enhanced rights, which has been likened to the rights of full membership, short of the right to vote.
Observer status may be granted by a United Nations General Assembly resolution. The status of a permanent observer is based purely on practice of the General Assembly, and there are no provisions for it in the United Nations Charter. A distinction has been made between state and non-state observers. Non-member states, which are members of one or more specialized agencies, can apply for the status of permanent observer state. Non-state observers are the international organizations and other entities.
Non-member observer states
The General Assembly may invite non-member entities to participate in the work of the United Nations without formal membership, and has done so on numerous occasions. Such participants are described as observers, some of which may be further classified as non-member state observers. Most former non-member observer states accepted observer status at a time when they had applied for membership but were unable to attain it, due to the (actual or threatened) veto by one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council. The grant of observer status is made by the General Assembly only, and not subject to a Security Council veto.
In some circumstances a state may elect to become an observer rather than full member. For example, to preserve its neutrality while participating in its work, Switzerland chose to remain a permanent non-member state observer from 1948 until it became a member in 2002.
Present non-member observer states
As of 2019[update], there are two permanent non-member observer states in the General Assembly of the United Nations: the Holy See and Palestine. Both were described as "Non-member States having received a standing invitation to participate as observers in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and maintaining permanent observer missions at Headquarters". The Holy See uncontroversially obtained its non-member observer state status in 1964. The Holy See did not wish to join the United Nations as a member because "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." Since April 6, 1964, the Holy See has accepted permanent observer state status, which was regarded as a diplomatic courtesy, to enable the Vatican to participate in the UN's humanitarian activities and in the promotion of peace.
In 2012, Palestine‘s observer status was changed from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state", which many called "symbolic". The change followed an application by Palestine for full UN membership in 2011 as part of the Palestine 194 campaign, to provide additional leverage to the Palestinians in their dealings with Israel. The application had not been put to a UN Security Council vote.
With the change in status, the United Nations Secretariat held that Palestine was entitled to become a party to treaties for which the UN Secretary-General is the depositary. On 17 December 2012, UN Chief of Protocol, Yeocheol Yoon, declared that "the designation of 'State of Palestine' shall be used by the Secretariat in all official United Nations documents."
The seating in the General Assembly Hall is arranged with non-member observer states being seated immediately after UN member states, and before other observers. On 10 September 2015, the General Assembly resolved to approve the raising at the UN of the flags of non-member observer states alongside those of the 193 UN member states.
|Non-member state||Date observer status was granted||Additional timeline and details|
|Holy See||6 April 1964: granted permanent observer state status
1 July 2004: gained all the rights of full membership except voting rights, submission of resolution proposals without co-sponsoring, and putting forward candidates (A/RES/58/314)
|Sovereign entity with statehood over the territory of the Vatican City State.|
|State of Palestine||22 November 1974: non-state observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (A/RES/3237 (XXIX))
9 December 1988: right to circulate communications without intermediary (A/RES/43/160)
15 December 1988: designation "Palestine" (A/RES/43/177)
7 July 1998: right to participate in general debate and additional rights (A/RES/52/250)
29 November 2012: non-member observer state status (A/RES/67/19):
16 October 2018: Provided additional rights and privileges of participation, described in /A/RES/73/5, by virtue of Palestine being Chair of the Group of 77 for 2019.
|28 October 1974: PLO recognized as "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", by states of the seventh Arab summit (and later by over 100 states with which it holds diplomatic relations and by Israel).|
22 November 1974: PLO recognized as competent on all matters concerning the question of Palestine by the UN General Assembly in addition to the right of the Palestinian people in Palestine to national independence and sovereignty.
15 November 1988: PLO unilaterally declared the State of Palestine.
4 May 1994: PLO established the Palestinian National Authority territorial administration as result of the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO itself, Israel, United States and Russia.
7 July 1998: PLO has been assigned seating in the General Assembly Hall immediately after non-member States and before the other observers.
23 September 2011: State of Palestine applies for UN membership
17 December 2012: UN Chief of Protocol Yeocheol Yoon decides that "the designation of 'State of Palestine' shall be used by the Secretariat in all official United Nations documents."
- The Cook Islands and Niue, both states in free association with New Zealand, are members of several UN specialized agencies, and have had their "full treaty-making capacity" recognized by United Nations Secretariat in 1992 and 1994 respectively. The Cook Islands has expressed a desire to become a UN member state, but New Zealand has said that they would not support the application without a change in their constitutional relationship, in particular the right of Cook Islanders to New Zealand citizenship.
- The Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan, was a founding member of the United Nations representing China, which had been divided between the ROC and the People's Republic of China since the Chinese Civil War. However, in 1971 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 transferred China's seat in the UN from the ROC to the PRC. Since then, Taiwan has sought to resume its participation in UN activities. Various methods were considered, including seeking observer status, but ultimately the ROC chose to submit more vague requests which did not specify the form of participation it sought between 1993–2006. These requests have been consistently denied due to the UN's recognition of the PRC as the "legitimate representative of China to the United Nations". The UN Secretary-General concluded from the resolution that the General Assembly considered Taiwan to be a province of China, and thus it does not permit the ROC to become a party to treaties for which it is the depositary.
- Other countries are recognized by the United Nations as not being self-governing and appear on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, but are represented in the UN by their respective administering member state.
Former non-member observer states
Sixteen former non-member states were also granted observer status. Fourteen of those states eventually became members of the United Nations. The other two constitute a single special case.[Note 1]
Most of the former non-member observer states accepted this status at a time when they had applied for membership but were unable to attain it, due to the (actual or threatened) veto of one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council. The vetoes were later overcome either by changes in geopolitical circumstances, or by "package deals" under which the Security Council approved multiple new member states at the same time, as was done with a dozen countries in 1955 and with East and West Germany in 1973.
|State||Granted||Became full member||Period|
|North Korea||1973||1991||18 years|
|Democratic Republic of Viet Nam||1975||[Note 1]—||1 year|
|Federal Republic of Germany||1952||1973||21 years|
|German Democratic Republic||1972||1973||1 year|
|South Korea||1949||1991||42 years|
|Republic of Vietnam||1952||[Note 1]—||24 years|
|Vietnam||1976 [Note 1]||1977||1 year|
- On 30 April 1975 South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnamese forces and on 2 July 1976 it united with North Vietnam to form modern Vietnam, which was granted observer status in 1976. The UN General Assembly resolutions and decisions for the 30th and 31st sessions do not record the decision to grant observer status, but Resolution 31/21 of 26 November 1976 does refer to the "Permanent Observer of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations". Viet Nam became a member of the UN on 20 September 1977.
Entities and international organizations
Many intergovernmental organizations and a few other entities (non-governmental organizations and others with various degrees of statehood or sovereignty), are invited to become observers at the General Assembly. Some of them maintain a permanent office in the United Nations headquarters in New York City, while others do not; however, this is the choice of the organization and does not imply differences in their status.
Regional organizations allowed by their member states to speak on their behalf
In the resolution adopted in May 2011 granting additional rights to the European Union the UNGA decided that similar arrangements may be adopted for any other regional organization that is allowed to speak on behalf of its member states.
|Organization or entity||Date observer status was granted||Entity type|
|European Union[note 1]||11 October 1974 (A/RES/3208 (XXIX)): observer status
10 May 2011 (A/RES/65/276): additional rights
|The only observer that operates through a hybrid system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism, giving it some state-like qualities.|
|Organization or entity||Date observer status was granted|
|International Chamber of Commerce||21 Dec 2016 (A/RES/71/156)|
|International Committee of the Red Cross||16 Oct 1990 (A/RES/45/6)|
|International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies||19 Oct 1994 (A/RES/49/2)|
|Inter-Parliamentary Union||19 Nov 2002 (A/RES/57/32)|
|International Olympic Committee||20 Oct 2009 (A/RES/64/3)|
|Sovereign Military Order of Malta||24 Aug 1994 (A/RES/48/265)|
Former observer entities
- The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), a liberation movement in Namibia, held observer status with the right to circulate communications without intermediary beginning in 1976. This terminated in 1990 when the Republic of Namibia attained independence and was granted full membership in the United Nations and SWAPO was transformed into a political party.
While the EU is an observer, it is party to some 50 international UN agreements as the only non-state participant. It is a full participant on the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization. It has also been a full participant at certain UN summits, such as the Rio and Kyoto summits on climate change, including hosting a summit. Furthermore, the EU delegation maintains close relations with the UN's aid bodies. In 2011 the EU was granted enhanced powers in the General Assembly; the right to speak in debates, to submit proposals and amendments, the right of reply, to raise points of order and to circulate documents. These rights were also made open to other international organizations who requested them, if their members have given them the right to speak on their behalf.
- Member states of the United Nations
- List of current Permanent Representatives to the United Nations
- UN ECOSOC observers
- Category:United Nations General Assembly observers
- Originally under the designation of European Community. The EC formally became the EU on 1 December 2009 and was acknowledged by 2011.
- Robbie Sabel (14 December 2017). Rules of Procedure at the UN and at Inter-Governmental Conferences. Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-316-78210-1.
- Phillips, Leigh (3 May 2011) EU wins new powers at UN, transforming global body Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine, EU Observer
- "United Nations – Permanent Observers". un.org. Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- UN site on Permanent Missions Archived February 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979) p. 156.
- American Society of International Law, 7 December 2012: Legal Implications of the UN General Assembly Vote to Accord Palestine the Status of Observer State Archived 2015-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, by John Cerone
- "Ban sends Palestinian application for UN membership to Security Council". United Nations. 23 September 2011. Archived from the original on 3 July 2017.
- CNN, 30 November 2012, U.N. approves Palestinian 'observer state' bid Archived 2015-09-29 at the Wayback Machine
- McGreal, Chris (11 November 2011). "UN vote on Palestinian state put off amid lack of support". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
- O'Brien, Patricia (2013-02-06). "EU Council Working Group on Public International Law – COJUR" (PDF). United Nations Office of Legal Affairs. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-09-11. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- Ali (20 December 2012). "U.N. Adds New Name: "State of Palestine"". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 21 December 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 58 Resolution 314. Participation of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations A/RES/58/314 2004-07-16. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- AP, The Big Story, 10 September 2015: UN strongly approves Palestinian proposal to raise flag Archived 2015-09-30 at Wikiwix, by Cara Anna and Edith M. Lederer.
- "Non-member States". United Nations. Archived from the original on 2009-05-09.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 29 Resolution 3237. Observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization A/RES/3237(XXIX) 1974-11-22. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 43 Resolution 160. Observer status of national liberation movements recognized by the Organization of African Unity and/or by the League of Arab States A/RES/43/160 1988-12-09. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 43 Resolution 177. Question of Palestine A/RES/43/177 1988-12-15. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 52 Resolution 250. Participation of Palestine in the work of the United Nations A/RES/52/250 1998-07-13. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 67 Resolution 19. Status of Palestine in the United Nations A/RES/67/19 2012-12-04. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations Archived January 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine: "since ... Vote in the United Nations General Assembly which accorded to Palestine Observer State Status, the official title of the Palestine mission has been changed to The Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations."
- "U.N. allows Palestinians to act more like full member in 2019". Reuters. October 16, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Israel-PLO Recognition-Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat-Sept 9- 1993 Archived 2008-05-12 at the Wayback Machine. Mfa.gov.il (9 September 1993). Retrieved on 25 August 2013.
- "At the threshold of peace Mutual recognition ends 3 decades of strife between Israel and PLO ISRAELI-PLO PEACE TALKS". Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
- Madiha Rashid al Madfai, Jordan, the United States and the Middle East Peace Process, 1974–1991, Cambridge Middle East Library, Cambridge University Press (1993). ISBN 0-521-41523-3. p. 21:"On 28 October 1974, the seventh Arab summit conference held in Rabat designated the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and reaffirmed their right to establish an independent state of urgency."
- Geldenhuys, Deon (1990). Isolated states: a comparative analysis. Cambridge University Press. p. 155. ISBN 9780521402682.
- UN observers: Non-member States and Entities Archived May 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Palestine is listed immediately after non-member States (on the same page) and before the other observers (that are on the next page).
- United Nations General Assembly Session 66 Agenda item 116. Application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations A/66/371 2011-09-23. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
- Gharib, Ali (20 December 2012). "U.N. Adds New Name: "State of Palestine"". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 21 December 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- "Organs Supplement", Repertory of Practice (PDF), UN, p. 10, archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-19
- The World today (PDF), UN, archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-03-19
- "NZ PM rules out discussion on Cooks UN membership". Radio New Zealand. 2015-06-19. Archived from the original on 2016-04-27. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
- Lindemann, Björn Alexander (2014). Cross-Strait Relations and International Organizations: Taiwan’s Participation in IGOs in the Context of Its Relationship with China. Springer Science+Business Media. p. 258.
- Winkler, Sigrid (2012-06-20). "Taiwan's UN Dilemma: To Be or Not To Be". Washington D.C.: Brookings. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
- "U.N. again throws out Taiwan bid for recognition". Reuters. 18 September 2008. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.: "This time, Taiwan was not applying for membership, just to take part in unspecified U.N. 'activities'."
- "Taiwan drops annual U.N. bid as China relations warm". Reuters. 4 February 2009. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- "FINAL CLAUSES OF MULTILATERAL TREATIES" (PDF). United Nations. 2003. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-31. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
Hence, instruments received from the Taiwan Province of China will not be accepted by the Secretary-General in his capacity as depositary.
- UN THE WORLD TODAY (PDF) Archived 2015-03-19 at the Wayback Machine showing UN member states (blue), non-member states (green and yellow), non-self-governing territories (red) and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (gray).
- Connie L. McNeely (1995). Constructing the nation-state: international organization and prescriptive action. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-0-313-29398-6. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- "Status of Palestine at the United Nations". Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- "United Nations Official Document". www.un.org. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- United Nations http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/INF/63/6&Lang=E Archived 2010-11-10 at the Wayback Machine
- United Nations General Assembly Session 65 Resolution 276. Participation of the European Union in the work of the United Nations A/RES/65/276 Retrieved 10 September 2011.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 53 Resolution 5. Observer status for the Association of Caribbean States in the General Assembly A/RES/53/5 Retrieved 1 September 2007.
- "A/RES/44/6. Observer status for the Council of Europe in the General Assembly". www.un.org. Archived from the original on 2016-12-28. Retrieved 2016-09-27.
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 58, Resolution 318, Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Criminal Court Archived 2009-01-09 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 11 October 2013
- United Nations General Assembly Session 33 Resolution 18. A/RES/33/18 Retrieved 23 September 2010.
- "Documentos oficiales de las Naciones Unidas". www.un.org. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 71, Resolution 156, Observer status for the International Chamber of Commerce in the General Assembly Archived 2017-08-20 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 25 September 2017
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 45, Resolution 6, Observer status for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the General Assembly Archived 2015-10-31 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 February 2017
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 49, Resolution 2, Observer status for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the General Assembly Archived 2017-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 February 2017
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 57, Resolution 32, Observer status for the Inter-Parliamentary Union in the General Assembly Archived 2017-09-07 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 February 2017
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 64, Resolution 3, Observer status for the International Olympic Committee in the General Assembly Archived 2017-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 February 2017
- United Nations General Assembly, Session 48, Resolution 265, Observer status for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the General Assembly Archived 2017-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 February 2017
- UNGA Resolution A/RES/31/152 Archived 2011-07-28 at the Wayback Machine Observer status for the South West Africa People's Organization
- Description of the European Union Delegation in New York Archived 2010-05-30 at the Wayback Machine, EU Delegation to the UN
- Phillips, Leigh (15 July 2010) EU reaches out for new powers at United Nations Archived 2010-12-15 at the Wayback Machine, EU Observer
- Full list of UNGA and ECOSOC observers with admission resolutions details, January 2010
- United Nations General Assembly
- United Nations missions in New York City
- Non-member States with Observer Status
- Intergovernmental Organizations and Other Entities with Observer Status
- UN Info Quest – Organizations granted observer status in the General Assembly
- Blue Book "Permanent Missions to the United Nations No. 298" dated March 2008