Observer status is a privilege granted by some organizations to non-members to give them an ability to participate in the organization's activities. Observer status is often granted by intergovernmental organizations (IGO) to non-member parties and international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) that have an interest in the IGO's activities. Observers generally have a limited ability to participate in the IGO, lacking the ability to vote or propose resolutions.
The United Nations General Assembly may grant entities observer status. The United Nations welcomes many international agencies, entities, and two non-member states as observers. Observers have the right to speak at United Nations General Assembly meetings, but not to vote on resolutions.
Non-member observer states are recognized as sovereign states, and are free to submit a petition to join as a full member at their discretion. At present, the Holy See and Palestine are the only observer states at the United Nations, although Switzerland also maintained such status until it became a member state. Among others the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also has observer status, although not as a state but as an entity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution does not recognise an observer status but the Rules of Procedure of its highest decision-making body World Health Assembly (WHA) give the Director-General right to invite observers to the annual Assembly meeting, provided that they are "States having made application for membership, territories on whose behalf application for associate membership has been made, and States which have signed but not accepted the Constitution."
From 1997 to 2008, the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan) applied for observer status in the WHO every year, under different names including "Republic of China", "Taiwan Health Entity" and "Taiwan". All these efforts failed, mainly due to firm objections from the People's Republic of China (PRC) which does not recognize the ROC and considers Taiwan as one of its provinces. The Cross-Strait Relations (between the PRC and ROC governments) significantly improved in 2008 and 2009, and the PRC government agreed to negotiate over this issue. On April 29, 2009, the Director-General invited the Department of Health of the ROC to attend the 2009 World Health Assembly under "Chinese Taipei", a compromised name which both the PRC and ROC accept.