Sui Generis Entities

Three entities have acquired legal status as international actors through historical precedent or international agreement. These entities do not control significant territory and have a limited international and national profile.


For over a thousand years, the Pope ruled central Italy from Rome (with some exceptions due to schism or war). However, in 1870, the Pope became a prisoner in the Vatican as a united Italy became an independent state. In 1929, Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI established the independence of Vatican City, an area of approximately 100 acres within the City of Rome. As a nation, the Vatican has observer rights in the UN and maintains diplomatic relations with most states. The disproportionate influence is due to the Pope being the religious leader of nearly one billion Catholics.

The Vatican also enjoys the benefits of international immunities, including the extension of immunity to its agencies – including its national bank and its officers.


Established in the 12th Century, the Order of Malta occupied the islands of Malta from 1530 to 1798, when Malta was conquered by Napoleon and later ceded to the British in 1814. Since then, the Order of Malta has operated from Rome, operating hospitals and providing international humanitarian aid. The Order of Malta is closely aligned with the Vatican. It is recognized by several Catholic countries with limited international and diplomatic recognition – predominantly to the extent it facilitates its international humanitarian mission.


Unlike the Vatican and Order of Malta, whose international recognition is founded in antiquity and tradition, the ICRC is a relatively modern organization established in 1863. The ICRC, like the Order of Malta, is focused on providing international relief, particularly during wartime.

The ICRC facilitates humanitarian treaties, serves as a protecting entity between belligerents, and ensures that the treaty obligations and the rights of the victims and civilians in wartime are honored. Under international law, when acting as a protecting power, the ICRC may enter into treaties with foreign states, compel treaties and international protocol enforcement, and maintain treaty agreements with over 65 States.

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