Fri, May 28, 2004 - Page 3 News List

NGOs want WHO membership

NOT SO EASY Key leaders in Taiwan's failed WHO bid support the call to apply for full membership in the health body, but officials think it might be a bad idea

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Twu Shiing-jer, far right, former director general of the Department of Health, and other members of Taiwan's WHO bid hold hands at a press conference in Taipei yesterday. Key members of the delegation have suggested that Taiwan should directly seek full membership after an eighth failed attempt attempt to obtain observer status in the UN body.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan should apply for full membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) next year instead of requesting observer status, officials of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) said yesterday.

"Taiwan is already a sovereign state. Whether pushing for observer status or full membership, the bid is a difficult one. Why not fight for full membership?" said Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志), head of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance and a presidential advisor.

Key leaders in Taiwan's WHO bid, which was defeated last week -- including Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan President Wu Shuh-min (吳樹民), Presbyterian Church in Taiwan General Assembly General Secretary William Lo (羅榮光), former director general of the Department of Health Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) and Taiwan Medical Association President Wu Yun-tung (吳運東) -- yesterday called on the government to forgo reservations about seeking full membership in the world health body.

Medical Professionals Alliance Executive Director Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) cited Article 3 of the WHO constitution, pointing out that as a sovereign state, Taiwan should be welcome at the organization. Article 3 states that "membership in the organization shall be open to all states."

"Observer status only lasts six days each year; full membership ensures healthcare benefits all year round," Lin said.

The WHO constitution does not directly define observer status, referring only to the power of the World Health Assembly (WHA) "to invite any organization, international or national, governmental or non-governmental, which has responsibilities related to those of the Organization, to appoint representatives to participate, without right of vote, in its meetings or in those of the committees and conferences convened under its authority."

In recent years, Taiwan has unsuccessfully applied for WHO participation as an observer to the WHA, the organization's highest decision-making body.

"Michael Kau (高英茂), [Foreign Affairs vice minister] always says that [Taiwan's participation in the WHO] is just a technical problem, but if that is the case, Taiwan could just participate as a member of China's delegation," Lin said, urging the government to address the political aspects of Taiwan's bid.

However, Maysing Yang (楊黃美幸), chairperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Research and Planning Committee, said that it was unlikely that the government will seek full WHO membership in the near future.

"While their [the NGOs'] views are on the right track, there are many difficulties that stand in the way," Yang said.

She explained that a lot of progress was made this year, with the US and Japan voting for the inclusion of Taiwan's application in the WHA agenda. Switching gears and calling for full membership could possibly set Taiwan back in terms of US and Japanese support.

"A lot of countries are, for commercial interest among others, afraid to go against China ... politics is higher than international law and human rights in this case," Yang said.

Yang also said that observer status would mean more than just participation in the health body's annual six-day summit, pointing out that observer nations would be invited to other conferences and committees throughout the year.

"It's not bad for them [NGOs] to voice more radical opinions. However, the government needs to take a more practical stance," Yang said.

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