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The International Legal Status of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta

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Abstract The Order of Malta is an entity which established its own states on Rhodes (1310–1522) and Malta (1530–1798). Since 1834, it has been located in Rome. Today, the Order is universally regarded as a subject of international law. The Order exercises right of legation and ius contrahendi. It still is not a primary, i.e., sovereign, subject of international law. Paradoxically, it is its distinguishing feature, i.e., being a religious order that prevents it from being genuinely sovereign. Sovereignty means independence from any external power. In the case of any order of the Roman Catholic Church, this is absolutely impossible. The Order’s Grand Master can be elected only from among religious in terms of canon law who have made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and is fully subordinate to the Pope. Yet the Order undoubtedly is a secondary subject of international law whose status is determined by its recognition by primary subjects.


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Affiliations: 1: Department of Public International Law, Institute of International Law, Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Warsaw Warsaw Poland


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