Women want Vatican out of UN
Thalif Deen
Botswana Gazette, (Botswana, Africa) April 21, 1999

United Nations – An international coalition of more than 70 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has launched a global campaign to oust the Vatican from the United Nations.

"If the Vatican has a right to a seat in the United Nations, then EuroDisney should be a member of the UN Security Council," says Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

Currently, Switzerland and the Holy See, which represents the Vatican, are the only two ‘Permanent Observers’ in 185-member United Nations. The Holy See was given this status in 1964.

The coalition, whose NGOs represent every region of the world, wants UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conduct an official review of the Vatican’s non-member status in the world body.

The list of participating NGOs includes the Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy, the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the Israel Women’s Network, the National Organization for Women and Centre for Health and Gender Equity of India.

"Why should an entity that is in essence 100 square acres of office space and tourist attractions in the middle of Rome, and with a citizenry that excludes women and children, have a place at the table where governments set policies affecting the very survival of women and children?" Kissling asked.

Kissling told reporters that the coalition is not opposed to the Vatican expressing its views in the public policy process.

"It is welcome to put forward its views as any other interest group, along with others of the world’s religions, and we support their right to do so," she said. "What is in question is the right of this non-state to occupy a position with governments," she said.

Kissling said the appropriate role for the Vatican is that of an NGO—the same as all the other NGOs representing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is and other religious organizations.

Several UN conferences—specifically the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing—saw the Roman Catholic Church take a strong minority view against family planning.

The Vatican makes an indirect link between family planning and abortion, which the Church vehemently opposes.

Since the UN takes most of its decisions by consensus, dissenting voices such as those of the Vatican have derailed negotiations on issues related to population, contraception, women’s rights and reproductive health care.

"As the world’s governments come together in New York this week to review progress toward the achievement of goals set at Cairo, the Vatican has a privileged position which it consistently uses to oppose widely-accepted health measures such as contraception and sexuality education," Kissling said.

Anika Rahman, director of International Programmes at the Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy, said that if the UN treats the Holy See as a state with permanent observer privileges because of its religious authority, the world body is creating a precedent for similar claims by other religions.

"To ensure that the United Nations does not promote any particular religion, religious entities such as the Roman Catholic Church should not be permitted to participate in this forum as a non-member state," she argued.

Rahman said that the Holy See consists of the Pope, the College of Cardinals and the central departments that govern the Church. It is, by definition, a non-territorial religious entity.

She said it is uncertain whether or not the Holy See meets the international definition of a ‘state.’

Although the UN does not define the term ‘state’ for its own purposes, international law generally recognizes an entity as a state if it possesses four main qualifications: a permanent population, a defined territory, the existence of a government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Rahman said the only characteristics of a modern state that could be attributed to the Holy See was its capacity to enter relations with other states. The Holy See is party to international treaties and it receives foreign envoys.

"But the Holy See did not meet this international legal definition of a nation in 1964, the year which the UN Secretary-General admitted the Holy See to this position," she added.

Amparo Claro of the Latin American and Caribbean Health Network said the Vatican did not represent the diversity of opinions that exist within the larger Christian community. "It does not even reflect the multiple voices of the Catholic community."