United Nations General Assembly observers

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In addition to its 193 member states, 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, such as a right to speak at General Assembly meetings, vote on procedural matters, serve as signatories on working papers, and sign resolutions,[clarification needed] but not to sponsor resolutions or vote on resolutions of substantive matters. 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 at May 2011, the EU was the only international organisation to hold these enhanced rights, which has been likened to the rights of full membership,[1] 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.[2] 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.[2] Non-state observers are the international organizations and other entities.

United Nations member state qualifications

Article 4 of Chapter II of the United Nations Charter specifies the qualifications for membership in the United Nations:[3]

Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgement of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.[4]

An application for membership must be approved by the United Nations Security Council[4] (which is subject to a veto) and then the General Assembly.[5]

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. 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."[6] Since April 6, 1964, the Holy See has accepted permanent observer state status at the United Nations, 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.

Present non-member observer states

As of 2015, there are two permanent non-member observer states at the United Nations: the Holy See and Palestine. The Holy See uncontroversially obtained its non-member observer state status in 1964 and Palestine was so designated in 2012, following an application for full membership which failed to secure Security Council approval. Both are 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".[7] The Holy See's status as a non-member state permanent observer in the United Nations has been questioned, as not having the attributes of a state.[8]

The change of Palestinian observer status in 2012 from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state" was regarded as an "upgrade" of their status. Many called the change "symbolic",[9] but which was regarded as providing new leverage to the Palestinians in their dealings with Israel.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Non-member state[13] 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)[12]
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))[14]
9 December 1988: right to circulate communications without intermediary (A/RES/43/160)[15]
15 December 1988: designation "Palestine" (A/RES/43/177)[16]
7 July 1998: right to participate in general debate and additional rights (A/RES/52/250)[17]
29 November 2012: non-member observer state status (A/RES/67/19):[18][19]
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).[20][21][22][23]
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.[17][24]
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."[25]

Former non-member observer states

Sixteen former non-member states were also granted observer status.[31][32] 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.[citation needed]

State Granted Became full member Time difference
 Austria 1952 1955 3 years
 Bangladesh 1973 1974 1 year
 Democratic People's Republic of Korea 1973 1991 18 years
 Democratic Republic of Viet Nam 1975 1977a[Note 1] — (observer for 1 year)
 Federal Republic of Germany 1952 1973 21 years
 Finland 1952 1955 3 years
 German Democratic Republic 1972 1973 1 year
 Italy 1952 1955 3 years
 Japan 1952 1956 4 years
 Kuwait 1962 1963 1 year
 Monaco 1956 1993 37 years
 Republic of Korea 1949 1991 42 years
 Republic of Viet Nam 1952 1976[Note 1] — (observer for 24 years)
 Spain 1955 1955 0 years
  Switzerland 1946 2002 56 years
 Vietnam 1976 [Note 1] 1977b 1977 1 year
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 On 30 April 1975 South Vietnam was taken over by communist 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.[33]

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.[34]

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.[35]

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):[35] additional rights
The only observer that operates through a hybrid system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism, giving it some state like qualities.

Intergovernmental organizations

Organization Date observer status was granted
African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States 15 Oct 1981 (A/RES/36/4)
African Development Bank 28 Oct 1987 (A/RES/42/10)
African Union (formerly the Organisation of African Unity) 11 Oct 1965 (A/RES/2011(XX))
15 Aug 2002 (General Assembly decision 56/475)
Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean 17 Oct 1988 (A/RES/43/6)
Andean Community of Nations 22 Oct 1997 (A/RES/52/6)
Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (formerly the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee) 13 Oct 1980 ( A/RES/35/2 {{{date}}}.)
Asian Development Bank 19 Nov 2002 (A/RES/57/30)
Association of Caribbean States 15 Oct 1998 (A/RES/53/17) [36]
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Association of Southeast Asian Nations 4 Dec 2006 (A/RES/61/44)
Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization 8 Oct 1999 (A/RES/54/5)
 Caribbean Community 17 Oct 1991 (A/RES/46/8)
Central American Integration System 19 Oct 1995 (A/RES/50/2)
Collective Security Treaty Organization 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/50)
Common Fund for Commodities 23 Nov 2005 (A/RES/60/26)
 Commonwealth of Independent States 24 Mar 1994 (A/RES/48/237)
Commonwealth Secretariat 18 Oct 1976 (A/RES/31/3)
Community of Portuguese Language Countries 26 Oct 1999 (A/RES/54/10)
Community of Sahelo-Saharan States 12 Dec 2001 (A/RES/56/92)
Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/77)
Council of Europe 17 Oct 1989 (A/RES/44/6)
Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/78)
East African Community 9 Dec 2003 (A/RES/58/86)
Economic Community of Central African States 12 Dec 2000 (A/RES/55/161)
Economic Community of West African States 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/51)
Economic Cooperation Organization 13 Oct 1993 (A/RES/48/2)
Eurasian Economic Union (formerly the Eurasian Economic Community) 9 Dec 2003 (A/RES/58/84)
Energy Charter Conference 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/75)
Eurasian Development Bank 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/76)
European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) 14 Dec 2012 (A/RES/67/102)
GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development 9 Dec 2003 (A/RES/58/85)
Hague Conference on Private International Law 23 Nov 2005 (A/RES/60/27)
Ibero-American Conference 23 Nov 2005 (A/RES/60/28)
Indian Ocean Commission 4 Dec 2006 (A/RES/61/43)
Inter-American Development Bank 12 Dec 2000 (A/RES/55/160)
International Centre for Migration Policy Development 19 Nov 2002 (A/RES/57/31)
International Conference on the Great Lakes Region of Africa 16 Dec 2009 (A/RES/64/123)
International Criminal Court 13 Sep 2004 (A/RES/58/318)[37]
International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) 15 Oct 1996 (A/RES/51/1)
International Development Law Institute 12 Dec 2001 (A/RES/56/90)
International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea 11 Dec 2008 (A/RES/63/133)
International Hydrographic Organization 12 Dec 2001 (A/RES/56/91)
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 9 Dec 2003 (A/RES/58/83)
International Organization for Migration 16 Oct 1992 (A/RES/47/4)
International Organization of la Francophonie [note 2] 10 Nov 1978 (A/RES/33/18)[38]
18 December 1998 (General Assembly decision 53/453)
International Seabed Authority 24 Oct 1996 (A/RES/51/6)
International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea 17 Dec 1996 (A/RES/51/204)
International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (or the World Conservation Union) 17 Dec 1999 (A/RES/54/195)
Islamic Development Bank Group 28 Mar 2007 (A/RES/61/259)
Italian-Latin American Institute 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/74)
Latin American Economic System (SELA) 13 Oct 1980 (A/RES/35/3)
Latin American Integration Association 23 Nov 2005 (A/RES/60/25)
Latin American Parliament 13 Oct 1993 (A/RES/48/4)
League of Arab States 1 Nov 1950 (A/RES/477 (V))
OPEC Fund for International Development 4 Dec 2006 (A/RES/61/42)
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 15 Oct 1998 (A/RES/53/6)
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/52)
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 13 Oct 1993 (A/RES/48/5)
Organization of American States 16 Oct 1948 (A/RES/253 (III))
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (formerly the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) 10 Oct 1975 (A/RES/3369 (XXX))
Pacific Islands Forum 17 Oct 1994 (A/RES/49/1)
Partners in Population and Development 19 Nov 2002 (A/RES/57/29)
Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean 16 Dec 2009 (A/RES/64/124)
Permanent Court of Arbitration 13 Oct 1993 (A/RES/48/3)
Union of South American Nations Union of South American Nations 9 Dec 2011 (A/RES/66/484)[39]
Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States 6 Dec 2007 (A/RES/62/73)
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/48)
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/53)
Southern African Development Community 2 Dec 2004 (A/RES/59/49)
South Centre 11 Dec 2008 (A/RES/63/131)
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria 16 Dec 2009 (A/RES/64/122)
University for Peace 11 Dec 2008 (A/RES/63/132)
World Customs Organization (formerly the Customs Cooperation Council) 23 Mar 1999 (A/RES/53/216)

Other entities

Organization or entity Date observer status was granted
International Committee of the Red Cross 16 Oct 1990 (A/RES/45/6)[40]
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies 19 Oct 1994 (A/RES/49/2)[41]
Inter-Parliamentary Union 19 Nov 2002 (A/RES/57/32)[42]
International Olympic Committee 20 Oct 2009 (A/RES/64/3)[43]
 Sovereign Military Order of Malta 24 Aug 1994 (A/RES/48/265)[44]

Former observer entities

European Union

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.[46] 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,[47][1] if their members have given them the right to speak on their behalf.[35]

See also


  1. Originally under the designation of European Community. The EC formally became EU in 2010 and was acknowledged by 2011.
  2. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique became observer in 1978 and its observer status was transferred to its successor, the International Organization of la Francophonie in 1998.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Phillips, Leigh (3 May 2011) EU wins new powers at UN, transforming global body, EU Observer
  2. 2.0 2.1 United Nations - Permanent Observers
  3. United Nations. "UN Charter". United Nations. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 United Nations. "UN Charter". United Nations. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  5. "About UN Membership". United Nations. 
  6. James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979) p. 156.
  7. UN site on Permanent Missions
  8. Church or State? The Holy See at the United Nations
  9. American Society of International Law, 7 December 2012: Legal Implications of the UN General Assembly Vote to Accord Palestine the Status of Observer State, by John Cerone
  10. CNN, November 30, 2012: U.N. approves Palestinian 'observer state' bid
  11. AP, The Big Story, 10 September 2015: UN strongly approves Palestinian proposal to raise flag, by Cara Anna and Edith M. Lederer.
  12. 12.0 12.1 United Nations General Assembly Session 58 Resolution 314. A/RES/58/314 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  13. "Non-member States". United Nations. 
  14. United Nations General Assembly Session -1 Resolution 3237. A/RES/3237(XXIX) {{{date}}}. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  15. 15.0 15.1 United Nations General Assembly Session 43 Resolution 160. A/RES/43/160 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  16. United Nations General Assembly Session 43 Resolution 177. A/RES/43/177 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  17. 17.0 17.1 United Nations General Assembly Session 52 Resolution 250. A/RES/52/250 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  18. United Nations General Assembly Session 67 Resolution 19. A/RES/67/19 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  19. Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations: "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."
  20. Israel-PLO Recognition-Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat-Sept 9- 1993. Mfa.gov.il (9 September 1993). Retrieved on 25 August 2013.
  21. "At the threshold of peace Mutual recognition ends 3 decades of strife between Israel and PLO ISRAELI-PLO PEACE TALKS". Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  22. 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."
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  24. UN observers: Non-member States and Entities Palestine is listed immediately after non-member States (on the same page) and before the other observers (that are on the next page).
  25. Gharib, Ali (20 December 2012). "U.N. Adds New Name: "State of Palestine"". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
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  30. UN THE WORLD TODAY (PDF) showing UN member states (blue), non-member states (green and yellow), non-self-governing territories (red) and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (gray).
  31. 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. 
  32. "Status of Palestine at the United Nations". Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  33. Admission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to membership in the United Nations
  34. United Nations http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/INF/63/6&Lang=E
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 United Nations General Assembly Session 65 Resolution 276. Participation of the European Union in the work of the United Nations A/RES/65/276 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  36. United Nations General Assembly Session 53 Resolution 5. Observer status for the Association of Caribbean States in the General Assembly A/RES/53/5 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  37. United Nations General Assembly, Session 58, Resolution 318, Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, accessed 11 October 2013
  38. United Nations General Assembly Session 33 Resolution 18. A/RES/33/18 {{{date}}}. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  39. http://www.un.org/es/comun/docs/?symbol=A/RES/66/109
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  44. United Nations General Assembly, Session 48, Resolution 265, Observer status for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the General Assembly, accessed 11 October 2013
  45. UNGA Resolution A/RES/31/152 Observer status for the South West Africa People's Organization
  46. Description of the European Union Delegation in New York, EU Delegation to the UN
  47. Phillips, Leigh (15 July 2010) EU reaches out for new powers at United Nations, EU Observer

External links