Extraterritoriality – in International Law

Extraterritoriality – in International Law

Exemption from the application or jurisdiction of local law or tribunals is referred to as extraterritoriality. Extraterritoriality is the state of being exempt from the jurisdiction of local law in international law, usually as a consequence of diplomatic talks. It is a legal exception to local legislation. That example, an individual with extraterritoriality who commits a crime in one country cannot be tried by the authorities of that country, yet he or she may still face trial in his or her home country.

Historically, this applied mostly to humans, as jurisdiction was frequently asserted over people rather than areas. Extraterritoriality can also be extended to physical locations, such as foreign embassies, foreign military posts, or United Nations offices. The three most common cases recognized worldwide now include the people and belongings of foreign heads of state, ambassadors and other diplomats, and ships in international waters.

In international law, diplomatic immunity refers to the immunity granted to foreign nations or international organizations, as well as their official representatives, from the jurisdiction of the country in which they are present. These rights are now most typically awarded to visiting foreign authorities, as well as landmarks and plots of land dedicated to foreign agencies, such as dual-nationality war graves and tributes to notable foreign personalities.


Extraterritoriality includes foreign nations or international organizations as entities, as well as their leaders, legations, troops in transit, war ships, mission facilities, and other assets. It exempts individuals from local judicial process, police intrusion, and other forms of constraint while they are on the territory of a foreign sovereign.

In the past, pre-modern states generally claimed authority over individuals, giving rise to the concept of personal jurisdiction. As people moved across borders, this resulted in certain people being subject to the laws of nations in which they did not dwell, within the framework of territorial jurisdiction. In this view, extraterritoriality arises from the interaction of these two concepts of jurisdiction, personal and territorial, when laws are implemented based on who a person is rather than where they are.

Extraterritoriality refers to the circumstance in which a state extends its legal authority outside its territorial bounds. Extraterritoriality in the modern era can take several forms. The most well-known examples are cases of diplomatic extraterritoriality, in which diplomats and their belongings do not operate under the laws of their host countries, but rather under the laws of the diplomat’s home country. Examples include situations in which a state retains jurisdiction over its residents when they are abroad, and situations in which certain criminal offenses can be tried in a state regardless of where they were committed (e.g. piracy and child sex offences).

Extraterritorial jurisdiction and its application are two of the most contentious topics in the field of human rights in general, as well as in the field of business and human rights in particular. Similarly, several states claim the power to prosecute foreign combatants and human rights violators under concepts of universal jurisdiction, regardless of the nationality of such individuals or the location of the alleged crimes. This extends to local criminal statutes as well: the People’s Republic of China, for example, claims the authority to punish Chinese citizens for crimes done overseas, whereas Canada will pursue sexual abuse of minors by a Canadian anywhere in the world.

Some military and economic treaties grant other countries legal jurisdiction over foreign bases or ports. For example, under a bilateral status of forces agreement, Japan cedes authority over American military bases on its territory in Okinawa to US military tribunals. A ship in international seas is controlled by the laws of the jurisdiction in which it is registered under maritime law. This is a type of extraterritoriality in which a nation’s jurisdiction extends beyond its borders.