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THE UNITED NATIONS
from issue no. 06/07 - 2004

“Vatican” Resolution


The General Assembly strengthened and increased the status enjoyed by the Holy See. In a democratic and constructive spirit



On 1 July the General Assembly of the United Nations approved an important Resolution which confirms and strengthens the position which the Holy See enjoys as permanent observer (see box).
What does this Resolution mean? According to Monsignor Celestino Migliore – who today leads the Vatican mission to the United Nations – it is the formalization of a status which the permanent mission of the Holy See has already enjoyed in practice for forty years. The Holy See, in fact, was invited from the moment it opened its permanent mission to participate in the works of the General Assembly and it did so, sharing with other countries the unwritten procedure reserved to observers. The procedure nevertheless involved certain rules which did not facilitate proper participation. Among others, the need to get the green light from regional groups for every intervention; the impossibility of circulating documents as working documents of the General Assembly; no right of reply to possible interventions making reference to the Holy See. All these problems are ironed out by this Resolution.
John Paul II with Kofi Annan, 18 February 2003

John Paul II with Kofi Annan, 18 February 2003

The importance of the General Assembly for the Holy See is obvious. The General Assembly occupies a preeminent place among the six major bodies of the UN. In fact it is the only place in which all the member countries are represented and have an equal vote, independently of their geographic or demographic size. It deals with all the questions on the agenda of the Organization and treats them according to a thematic distribution in six general Committees. Further, it offers to the governments of the whole world a privileged forum for the exchange of ideas and information and for diplomatic agreement, especially useful for those countries which do not have diplomatic relations or who find themselves in conflict. In a few words, the General Assembly is comparable to a modern Areopagus in which ideas, proposals, information come together (and a consenus develops), things which in a small space of time go round the world. The Holy See – interested in following and participating in the works of the UN more in its aspect of world tribunal rather than as seat of global governance – obviously nurtures a great interest in the General Assembly and it was natural for it to wish to have formalized in writing, with the assent and support of the international community, the procedures for smooth and effective participation in the works of this body.
If such is the importance of the General Assembly for the Holy See, it is significant that full membership status was not sought. Monsignor Migliore points out in fact that the Holy See, as a sovereign subject of international law with its own proper and specific physiognomy, certainly has interests in maintaining an active and efficacious presence in the ambit of the United Nations, in terms of the right to speak granted to States not members of the UN. Whereas, inevitably, the right to vote and therefore full membership, would involve it in a direct way in questions of a political, military and economic order which go beyond its purpose. The Holy See, wishing to carry out its own international activity in relation to its objectives, which are principally of a religious and moral character, appreciates the possibility of being present and active in the ambit of the family of nations, of expressing its point of view on the various topics on the agenda and so contributing to international discussion, the formation of consensus and the common will of the States.
We have often wondered why this Resolution was only now introduced and why it didn’t happen at the moment of the UN acceptance of the Holy See as permanent observer. The answer is simply that conditions then were different from today. At the beginning the club of observer States numbered a good sixteen members, and in recent times, until 2001, the Holy See was in the company of Switzerland. All those countries were aiming at full acceptance and had no interest in consolidating their status as observers; indeed, the matter might have sent the wrong signal both to the national as well as the international community, as if they intended to adopt observer status forever. Now, instead, at least for the moment, the Holy See is the only member of the club of observers with a statutory position and so can behave in this sense without causing any discontent or the need to offer explanation to another State.
Many are wondering whether after this step the Holy See will preclude acceptance as a full member of the UN. Neither the spirit nor the letter of the Resolution in question give room for that hypothesis, Monsignor Migliore informs us. The meaning of this step, instead, is clearly expressed in the last “considering” of the preamble to the Resolution which states that, in the context of the revitalization of the works of the General Assembly, the Holy See wishes to offer its own contribution with appropriate forms of participation.
The acquisition of membership status of the United Nations, for States which join after the Statute came into force, is regulated by article 4 of the UN Charter. The conditions hinge on international State subjectivity and the satisfaction of certain requirements, such as being a State that loves peace, of accepting the obligations deriving from the Statute and of being able to fulfill such obligations and being ready to do so. As a result careful examination reveals no preclusion in international law against full membership of the UN by the Holy See. It is a matter rather of evaluating the benefits which must take many aspects into account, first of all the primarily spiritual and moral mission of the Holy See.
In past months the Italian media have expressed concern at the “highly confidential”, not to say “secret”, procedure which led to this Resolution. Obviously good and proper disinformation, the Vatican says. The procedure laid down by the UN for such questions does not in fact require any public announcements or public discussion. Rather, it requires prior informing and planning with the officials and the legal offices of the Organization; the circulation of a draft Resolution among all 191 member States in order to verify whether the question can be introduced directly for the consideration of the plenary assembly or whether it necessitates prior debate or negotiation; finally its inclusion on the agenda of a plenary session of the General Assembly. All the stages described above were respected, so that by 20 April all the permanent missions and, therefore, the respective chancelleries, were fully aware of the initiative and of its terms. Thanks also to “facilitation” – a procedure used in the UN for all Resolutions – entrusted by the president of the General Assembly to the Italian representative, the text of the Resolution gained the approval and in many cases explicit and happy support from the member countries.
Monsignor Migliore confesses that he carried forward the initiative with great satisfaction because, in direct contacts with UN officials and the representatives of member countries, he received many declaration of appreciation and support for the contribution which the Pope and the Holy See are making to the cause of peace and the care of humanity in general. Obviously in the discussion there were frequent efforts to illustrate or make clearer passages of the Resolution mostly from a procedural and juridical point of view. But there were no insurmountable reservations, fears or hesitations of an ideological character.
No one forgets that in the recent past there were initiatives and even the collecting of signatures to oppose the presence of the Holy See in the UN. At the prompting of some groups, private or non-governmental bodies, there was an attempt in the past, and periodically still today, to oppose the institutional presence of the Holy See in the UN and in international bodies in general. Such attempts are based on mainly ideological premises by interest groups opposed to the convictions and positions which the Holy See maintains on questions relating to life. Now, the status of member or observer at the UN is regulated by arguments of a legal and not ideological character. And it is right that it should be so. This is a democratic guarantee which allows participation in the debate to all the members of the international community who can and often do have divergent interests and positions, but who come together precisely to discuss and negotiate so as to resolve peacefully and in the interests of the common good their divergences and differences. The Resolution was motivated solely by the desire to consolidate the participation of the Holy See in this discussion in a democratic and constructive spirit, that is inclusive and not exclusive.
If one wonders what impact this Resolution will have on the sort of presence and activities of the Holy See at the UN, the answer is that the Holy See will continue to offer its contribution to the international debate with greater smoothness in procedure and, certainly, also with explicit support from member countries which will now be given it because it is endowed with a precise charter of participation.
Finally, how to translate the particular nature of the Holy See into specific activity at the heart of the UN? When it is said that the nature and mission of the Holy See are primarily of a spiritual order, it follows that it stresses a particular vision of the person and therefore of human society which is not separate from transcendence: and this conviction has a clear impact on every discourse about human rights, development, social and international justice, peace and war, coexistence between peoples, religious freedom. Its universal nature, which does not know national frontiers, keeps the Holy See involved not only on the hottest fronts of the international scene, but in all critical situations, and in particular in those more easily forgotten, because lacking strong economic, political or strategic interest. Finally, its ethical and humanitarian nature leads it to set at the center of its concerns and actions not so much institutions, political or social systems, strategic interests, but the human person and, in a spiral of concentric circles, the primary communities, which are the family, school, work, the areas of socialization, down to local communities, national ones and then the international sphere.

(edited by Giovanni Cubeddu)


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