The Order and the United Nations
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta has maintained a permanent mission to facilitate diplomatic relations with the United Nations since 1994 when it was granted Observer Status with the international organization. The Permanent Observer Mission exists, like all the diplomatic initiatives of the Order of Malta, to support and extend the humanitarian goals of the Order of Malta and its members. The neutral, impartial, and non-political nature of the Order of Malta permits for humanitarian intervention in a timely and valuable nature as well as for a welcoming presence amongst fellow members of the United Nations. Diplomats assist in ensuring the cooperation of particular countries or multilateral agencies in the Order of Malta’s effective delivery of aid and personnel into what are often the least inviting of circumstances. There are currently 104 countries with which the Order has diplomatic relations, and all are represented at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The United Nations is an essential arena for an active Order of Malta presence.
The members of the Mission, consisting of both full-time and volunteer delegates and staff, work cooperatively to sustain a consistent productive presence at the United Nations, ensuring that the Order of Malta is widely respected and highly visible in the role it enjoys today in the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies. Delegates attend daily meetings of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, as well as regularly being distinguished participants in high-level conferences and special sessions at Headquarters and abroad. Issues of particular concern to the Order of Malta, such as the safety of its humanitarian field personnel—be they assisting in United Nations Peacekeeping missions or operating independently—and the eradication of AIDS and other diseases are often on the agenda of the meetings of United Nations Committees, Agencies and Departments.
The Permanent Observer reports to the Grand Chancellor and the Diplomatic Counsellor of the Order of Malta, among others, on the issues addressed in these fora and makes informed recommendations as to how the Order can further its humanitarian and diplomatic goals. The Order of Malta also produces monthly Information Notes on its humanitarian relief and development projects world-wide. These are distributed to all Permanent Missions to the UN, ensuring that the Order’s fellow UN members remain informed. Responses to these Information Notes are overwhelmingly positive.
August 24, 1994 is a landmark date in the Order of Malta's history as a member of the international community. On that day, the General Assembly of the United Nations admitted the Order of Malta as a Permanent Observer to the UN.
Seventy-three Member States, representing all regional groups, enthusiastically volunteered to act as cosignatories for the draft resolution to be submitted to the General Assembly. These cosignatories included not only the countries traditionally linked to the Order of Malta, but also many with which the Order of Malta did not yet share diplomatic relations. The resolution was presented by His Excellency Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, who said:
“The draft resolution on which the General Assembly is about to take action is meant not only to recognize the role of the Order of Malta in international humanitarian relations, and not only to commend the dedication of the thousands and thousands of people all around the world involved in its volunteer services for the sick and the needy: it is also, and above all, meant to facilitate and enhance the Order’s humanitarian activities in a concrete way by improving its links with the United Nations and ensuring better coordination in this vital area for mankind.”
When welcoming the Order of Malta during the ceremony, Sen. Antonio Martino, the Italian Foreign Minister at the time, stressed its great, universally recognized humanitarian merits and its total, generous response to all persons affected by disasters during times of war and peace. Count Carlo Marullo di Condojanni presided, by mandate of His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master, Fra' Andrew Bertie, over the admission ceremony, accompanied by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Luciano Koch. Count Marullo expressed the Order of Malta’s gratitude to all the United Nations' Members who were supportive of the resolution; in particular, to the government of Italy, promoter and main supporter of the project, and to the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Butros Butros Gali, who personally helped to make the initiative successful.
The Order of Malta’s acceptance into the United Nations has had numerous positive ramifications, for example, in the area of international cooperation. The number of States formally extending recognition to the Order of Malta in the modern era is growing. In the 1950s, theOrder of Malta enjoyed formal diplomatic relations only with five States. By the time the General Assembly extended Permanent Observer status to the Order of Malta, the number of States sharing diplomatic relations with the Order of Malta had raised to 67. Since 1994, that recognition has enlarged to 99 Member States. This creates new prospects for the Order of Malta’s participation in international agreements and social works, especially in the fields most interrelated to its humanitarian mission such as protecting the health, freedom and dignity of persons, promoting civil and social progress, working to prevent violence and fostering peaceful international coexistence.
In addition to these bilateral diplomatic relationships and its Permanent Observer status at the United Nations in New York, Geneva and Vienna, the Order of Malta also has permanent missions to many UN specialized agencies including the UN Education Science and Culture Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization , the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Industrial Development Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta also has delegations or representatives to the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the International Organization for Migration, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law , the International Committee of Military Medicine, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Unión Latina. The Order of Malta’s active presence in the UN and its representation to these groups serves to strengthen the coordination and effectiveness of the Order of Malta’s humanitarian and disaster relief activities.
The admission of Order of Malta to the United Nations also further solidified its legally recognized sovereignty in all those activities over and above its basic humanitarian mission. Its recognition by the United Nations also serves to thwart the fraudulent acts of the Order of Malta’s many imitators who, in the past and present, unlawfully attempt to usurp its symbols and name for commercial ends, often betraying the public's good faith.
In the United Nations, Observers do not have a vote but they have a voice. The positive consequences of the Order of Malta’s acceptance into the United Nations have become increasingly evident with time, and it is certain that this trend will continue.