Extraterritoriality is the state of being exempted from the jurisdiction of local law, usually as the result of diplomatic negotiations.

Historically, this primarily applied to individuals, as jurisdiction was usually claimed on peoples rather than on lands.[1] Extraterritoriality can also be applied to physical places, such as foreign embassies, military bases of foreign countries, or offices of the United Nations. The three most common cases recognized today internationally relate to the persons and belongings of foreign heads of state, the persons and belongings of ambassadors and other diplomats, and ships in international waters.


In the past, pre-modern states generally claimed sovereignty over persons, creating something known as personal jurisdiction.[1] As people move between borders, this led to, in the framework of a territorial jurisdiction, certain persons being under the laws of countries in which they did not reside. Extraterritoriality, in this sense, emerges from the interaction of these two conceptions of jurisdiction, personal and territorial, when laws are applied based on who a person is rather than where they are.

In the modern day, extraterritoriality can take various forms. Most famous are examples of diplomatic extraterritoriality, where diplomats and their belongings do not operate under the laws of their host nations, but rather, under the laws of the diplomat's nation.

Similarly, many nations claim the right to prosecute foreign combatants and violators of human rights under doctrines of universal jurisdiction, irrespective of the nationality of those persons or the place in which the alleged crimes occurred.[2] This extends to domestic criminal codes as well: for example, the People's Republic of China claims the right to prosecute Chinese citizens for crimes committed abroad.[3]

And in some military or commercial agreements, some nations cede legal jurisdiction for foreign bases or ports to other countries. For example, Japan cedes jurisdiction over American military bases on its soil in Okinawa to US military tribunals pursuant to a bilateral status of forces agreement.[4]

In maritime law, ships in international waters are governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which that ship is registered. This can be conceived of as a form of extraterritoriality, where a nation's jurisdiction extends beyond its border per se.

Historical cases

14th century

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Italian sea republics of Genoa and Venice managed to wrestle extraterritoriality for their quarters (Pera and Galata) in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. They even battled among themselves for further control of the weakened empire.[5]

Ottoman Empire

Various "Capitulations" were a series of treaties between the Sublime Porte and Western nations, from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.[6] The legal impenetrability of the Ottoman legal code created during the Tanzimat era began to weaken continuously through the spread of European colonialism and the prevalence of legal positivism.

The laws and regulations created for Ottoman subjects to abide by often did not apply to European nationals conducting business and trade in the provinces of the empire, and thus various capitulations were brought into effect with respect to many foreign powers. The various overlapping governmental laws led to legal pluralism in which jurisdiction often was left up to the great powers to institute and organize their own legal structures to represent their citizens abroad.[7]

The capitulations ceased to have effect in Turkey in 1923, by virtue of the Treaty of Lausanne, and in Egypt they were abolished by the Montreux Convention in 1949.

British India

During the Second World War, the military personnel of the Allied Forces within the British Raj were governed by their own military codes by the Allied Forces Ordinance, 1942[8] and the members of the United States Armed Forces were entirely governed by their own laws, even in criminal cases.[9]


Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born on 19 January 1943 in Ottawa Civic Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, as the family had been living in Canada since June 1940 after the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany. The maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital in which Princess Margriet was born was temporarily declared to be extraterritorial by the Canadian government.[10] Making the maternity ward outside of the Canadian domain caused it to be unaffiliated with any jurisdiction and technically international territory. This was done to ensure that the newborn would derive her citizenship from her mother only, thus making her solely Dutch, which could be very important had the child been male, and as such, the heir of Princess Juliana.[11]

East Asia

The most famous cases of extraterritoriality in East Asia are those of 19th century China, Japan, and Siam, emerging from what is termed the "unequal treaties". The practice of extraterritoriality, however, was not confined to the 19th century or these nations,[12] as the monarchs and governments of pre-modern East Asia primarily claimed sovereignty over people rather than tracts of land.[13]


A hearing of the International Mixed Court at Shanghai, c. 1905

The creation of extraterritoriality for treaty nations "was not introduced into East Asia ex novo, but built atop a long-standing legal edifice".[14] Jurisdiction in Qing dynasty China, with differential treatment for Han and Manchu subjects, was not determined by geography, but rather, by the identity of the subjects.[14] For example, the ruling Manchu elite possessed legal privileges which placed them outside the jurisdiction of local ethnically Chinese administrators.[6]

Before the Treaty of Nanking, which ended the First Opium War, foreign merchants were not satisfied with the state of the Qing dynasty's legal system. British merchants were "suspicious of what they regarded as a tendency in the Qing legal order to impose collective responsibility; they were also resentful of the Qing practice of meting out capital punishment in cases of accidental manslaughter".[15] After a controversial case 1784 case where a British gunner was executed for accidentally killing a Chinese subject, British East India Company officials generally spirited away Britons before Qing officials could react.[15]

Grants of extraterritoriality were regular in China. In the 1830s, when the Qing empire concluded a treaty with the Uzbek khanate of Khoqand, it granted extraterritorial privileges to its traders. And in dealing with foreign merchants through the centuries, the Qing government rarely attempted to impose jurisdiction based on territorial sovereignty, instead entrusting the punishment of foreigners to the respective authority in practically all cases except homicide.[16]

At the negotiations of the Treaty of Nanking, Qing negotiators readily extended a grant of extraterritoriality. Cassel writes "the imperial commissioner and Manchu nobleman Qiying readily conceded extraterritorial privileges to the British in an exchange of notes with Pottinger [the British plenipotentiary] at the time of the conclusion of the treaty".[17] This was in line with Qing practices at the time, where sovereignty was held by peoples rather than imposed on lands.

A more formal declaration of extraterritoriality was concluded in the 1843 Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, which established that "Britons were to be punished according to English law and Chinese were to be 'tried and punished by their own laws'".[18] These provisions only applied to the treaty ports, since foreigners were barred from entering the Chinese interior.[19]

Under imperial edict earlier in the year, these privileges were extended to most western countries. Other nations wanted reassurances and guarantees. For example, the United States would negotiate the Treaty of Wangxia, which stated in article 21:

Subjects of China who may be guilty of any criminal act towards citizens of the United States shall be arrested and punished by the Chinese authorities according to the laws of China, and citizens of the United states who may commit any crime in China shall be subject to be tried and punished only by the Consul or other public functionary of the United States thereto authorised according to the laws of the United States.[20]

The Wangxia treaty included an exception for American trading in opium and also subjected American ships trading outside treaty ports to confiscation by the Chinese government in articles 33 and 3.[20] Similarly, the French also pursued protections in the Treaty of Huangpu, which further introduced a distinction between criminal and civil jurisdiction (non-existent in Qing dynasty law) and gave Frenchmen the full protections of Chinese law outside concessionary areas.[21]

The Sino-British Treaty of Tianjin, which ended the Second Opium War, expanded the rights of western visitors, their being permitted to enter the Chinese interior after passporting. However, extraterritorial rights were not extended outside the treaty ports.[22] Similar rights were granted to the interested western powers due to the "most-favoured-nation" clause: all privileges the Qing empire granted to one power would be automatically granted to the others. In 1868, when the treaties which ended the Second Opium War were renegotiated, British merchants clamoured to lift the travel restrictions on the Chinese interior. The Qing position was adamantly opposed, unless extraterritoriality was also abolished.[23] No compromise was reached; and the Qing government was successful in preventing foreigners from settling in the interior with extraterritorial privileges.[24]

Extraterritorial rights were not limited to Western nations. Under the 1871 Sino-Japanese Treaty of Tianjin, Japan and China granted each other reciprocal extraterritorial rights.[25] China itself imposed reciprocal extraterritoriality rights for its own citizens in 19th century Korea.[26][25] However, in 1895, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China gave up its extraterritorial rights in Japan, without reciprocity.[27]

International Mixed Court

The most prominent of the treaty ports established after the Opium wars was Shanghai, where the vague extraterritoriality provisions of the various treaties were most sophisticatedly implemented. The two main courts judging extraterritorial cases were the Mixed Court in the International Settlement and the British Supreme Court for China.[28] Similar courts were established for treaty countries, e.g. the United States Court for China.[29] These had jurisdiction over the concession areas, which formally remained under Qing sovereignty.[30] Initially, Chinese who committed crimes in, say, the British zone, were remanded to Chinese authorities.[31]

The collapse of Qing rule in Shanghai during the Taiping rebellion led to significant numbers of Chinese settling in the international areas,[31] where they were ostensibly prohibited from renting property.[30] In the absence of Qing administration, the people living in the international settlements, while legally under Qing law, were de facto administered by the existing and functioning foreign courts.

Unsatisfied with this state of affairs, in 1864, the "Mixed Court" was established, with a Qing official cooperating with a foreign consul to achieve some verdict.[32][33] These courts ruled on Chinese law, applying to Chinese subjects and "unrepresented foreigners" which belonged to non-treaty state nations.[34] Around the same time, the British moved their main court for extraterritorial cases in China from Hong Kong to Shanghai's British concession, partly under pressure from Qing officials who were concerned with Britain sending its subjects all the way to England for punishment.[35] In British extraterritorial courts, while Qing officials were present in mixed cases, they were sidelined.[36]

The Mixed Court itself, when trying cases between Chinese only, similarly sidelined foreign influence. And served, for the Qing government, a symbol of extraterritorial jurisdiction over the Chinese community present in the international settlements, where Chinese were considered foreigners.[37] In the last decade of the Qing dynasty, with growing nationalist sentiment, the problems associated with various different jurisdictions became quite evident as revolutionaries used the protection of foreign jurisdiction to violate Qing dynasty sedition and lèse-majesté laws.[38]

End of Extraterritoriality in China

By the early 20th century, some Western powers were willing to relinquish extraterritorial rights given Chinese legal reform.[39] For example, the 1902 Sino-British "Mackay treaty"'s article 12 read:

China having expressed a strong desire to reform her judicial system ... [Great Britain] will ... be pretreated to relinquish her extra-territorial rights when she is satisfied that the state of the Chinese laws, the arrangement for her administration, and other considerations warrant her in so doing.[39]

Qing law did not make a formal distinction between criminal and civil law.[20] While efforts at legal reform were pursued in earnest in the last decade of the Qing dynasty,[39] what was actually enacted failed to meaningfully address this lack of law regarding contracts, trade, or commerce.[40]

After the collapse of the Chinese government in 1911 and the ensuing administrative vacuum, the Chinese members of the Mixed Court were subsequently appointed by the Western powers, placing all inhabitants of the international settlement under de facto foreign jurisdiction.[41][42] The success of the Northern Expedition in increasing the authority of the Chinese republic in the mid-1920s led to many governments giving up their more minor treaty ports without a fight.[43] However, the treaty powers were unwilling to give up Shanghai, or their privileges within it, which remained the most prominent economic centre and treaty port, even as the others were disestablished. It was only after a confrontation between Shanghai police and Nationalist demonstrators in 1925 that Chinese authorities refused to enforce the verdicts of the Mixed Court; this led to its disestablishment in 1927 and replacement with a Chinese-run local court.[43]

In 1921, at the Conference on the Limitation of Armament in Washington, an international resolution[by whom?] was signed expressing the willingness of the parties to end extraterritoriality in China once a satisfactory legal system was established by China.[44] As a result of the resolution, a commission was established in 1926 that published a detailed report containing its findings and recommendations for the Chinese legal system.[45]

Extraterritoriality in China for non-diplomatic personnel ended at various times in the 20th century. In 1937, the status with respect to the various foreign powers China had diplomatic relations with was thus:[46]

Status of extraterritoriality with respect to China (1937)
Ceased to have effect No extraterritorial rights Will surrender privileges "when all other powers do so" Rights continued to have effect
 Soviet Union
 Mexico (lapsed 1928)
 United Kingdom
 United States

Germany and Austria-Hungary lost their rights in China in 1917 after China joined the Entente in the First World War.[41] The Russian revolution also removed Russia from their consuls' jurisdiction.[41] While the Japanese had unilaterally imposed extraterritoriality in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, competition between it and the Allies during the Second World War led to the abolishing of extraterritoriality in nearly all areas of China in 1943, with many legal instruments between many different states ostensibly representing China.[47]

It was in this context of competition for Chinese support that both the United States and the United Kingdom ended relinquished extraterritorial rights via bilateral treaties in 1943, with the Treaty for Relinquishment of Extraterritorial Rights in China and the Sino-British Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China.


The legacy of this for jurisdictional control continues to the modern day. Cassel writes, "extraterritoriality has left many policy-makers in mainland China with a legacy of deeply felt suspicions toward international law, international organisations, and more recently, human rights".[2] With part of its legitimacy resting on claims to strengthening national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the People's Republic of China's constitution explicitly states that foreigners must abide by PRC law.[2] And the PRC government claims the right, under article 10 of its criminal code, to prosecute Chinese citizens for crimes against the criminal code which are committed abroad, even if already punished for the crime.[4] These emerge from significant claims of the importance of national sovereignty, a reaction to its abridgement in the past, where almost no nations emphasise the importance of their sovereignty more than China does today.[2]


Japan recognized extraterritoriality in the treaties concluded with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, and Russia in 1858, in connection with the concept of the "most favoured nation".[48] Various commercial treaties extended extraterritorial protections in Japan with various parties, including with Peru , in 1873.[49] Most countries exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction through consular courts. Britain established the British Court for Japan in 1879.

In 1887, only 2,389 non-Chinese foreigners lived in Japan, with strict limitations on freedom of movement.[50] These limitations meant that foreigners in Japan were not able to commit crime with impunity, in contrast with China, where foreigners were granted the ability to travel to the interior after passporting.[50] Rather, it was in the context of the Japanese state's desire to eliminate all competing jurisdictions and calls for legal reform based on the models of those jurisdictions that Japan's government desired to abolish foreign courts.[51]

Having convinced the Western powers that its legal system was "sufficiently modern",[27] Japan succeeded in reforming its unequal status with Britain through the 1894 Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, in which London would relinquish its Japanese extraterritorial rights within five years.[52] Similar treaties were signed with other extraterritorial powers around the same time. These treaties all came into effect in 1899, ending extraterritoriality in Japan.[53][52]

After the Allied victory in 1945, the Mutual Security Assistance Pact, and its successor treaties, between the United States, to the modern day, grant US military personnel on American bases in Okinawa extraterritorial privileges.[4]


King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam signed the Bowring Treaty granting extraterritorial rights to Britain in 1855. Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk, British Consul-General from 1859 to 1864, gives an account of his judicial training and responsibilities in a letter to his cousin dated 6 September 1860.[54] Unequal treaties were later signed with 13 other European powers and with Japan. Extraterritoriality came to end in 1917 with respect to the German Empire and Austria-Hungary.

In 1925–1926, the treaties were revised to provide for consular jurisdiction to be terminated, and nationals of the parties to the treaty were to come under the jurisdiction of Thai courts after the introduction of all Thai legal codes and a period of 5 years thereafter.[55] By 1930, extraterritoriality was in effect no longer in force.[56] After absolute monarchy was replaced by constitutional monarchy in the bloodless Siamese revolution of 1932, the constitutional government promulgated a set of legal codes, setting the stage for new treaties signed in 1937–1938 which canceled extraterritorial rights completely.[57]

Elimination of extraterritoriality with respect to Siam
Abolished in 1917 Abolished in 1937-1938
 German Empire
 United States
 United Kingdom

Current examples

See also


  1. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 9.
  2. ^ a b c d Cassel 2012, p. 182.
  3. ^ Cassel 2012, pp. 182-183.
  4. ^ a b c Cassel 2012, p. 183.
  5. ^ Browning, Robert (1992). The Byzantine Empire. Catholic University of America Press. p. 237. 
  6. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 12.
  7. ^ Curley, T. M. (2011). "Legal Imperialism: Sovereignty and Extraterritoriality in Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and China". Journal of Politics. 73 (2): 622–624. doi:10.1017/S0022381611000235. 
  8. ^ Allied Forces Ordinance, 1942, Ordinance No. LVI of October 26, 1942
  9. ^ Allied Forces (United States of America) Ordinance, 1942, Ordinance No. LVII of October 26, 1942
  10. ^ "Proclamation". Canada Gazette. 26 December 1942. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "Netherlands' Princess Margriet born in Ottawa". CBC Digital Archives. Canada Broadcasting Corporation. 
  12. ^ Cassel, Pär (2004). "Excavating Extraterritoriality: The "Judicial Sub-Prefect" as a Prototype for the Mixed Court in Shanghai". Late Imperial China. 24 (2): 156–82. 
  13. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 8.
  14. ^ a b Thai, Philip (May 2015). "Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan. By Pär Kristoffer Cassel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. xi, 260 pp. $41.95 (cloth)". The Journal of Asian Studies. 74 (2): 459–460. doi:10.1017/S0021911815000133. ISSN 0021-9118. 
  15. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 43.
  16. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 47.
  17. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 51.
  18. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 52.
  19. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 60.
  20. ^ a b c Cassel 2012, p. 53.
  21. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 54.
  22. ^ Cassel 2012.
  23. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 61.
  24. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 62.
  25. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 84.
  26. ^ Kim, Marie Seong-Hak (2013-11-29). "Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan by Pär Kristoffer Cassel (review)". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 73 (2): 382–392. doi:10.1353/jas.2013.0022. ISSN 1944-6454. 
  27. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 13.
  28. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 63.
  29. ^ Helmick, Milton J. (12 September 1945). "United States Court for China". Far Eastern Survey. Institute of Pacific Relations. 14 (18): 252–255. doi:10.1525/as.1945.14.18.01p1654e. JSTOR 3021415. 
  30. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 64.
  31. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 65.
  32. ^ Hammond, Kelly (2007). The Shanghai Mixed Court 1863-1880 – Colonial institution building and the creation of legal knowledge as a process of interaction and mediation between the Chinese and the British (Thesis). Simon Fraser University. 
  33. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 66.
  34. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 67.
  35. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 68.
  36. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 76.
  37. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 82.
  38. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 174.
  39. ^ a b c Cassel 2012, p. 175.
  40. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 162.
  41. ^ a b c Cassel 2012, p. 177.
  42. ^ Stephens, Thomas B. (1992). Order and Discipline in China: The Shanghai Mixed Court, 1911-27. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97123-1. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  43. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 178.
  44. ^ "Resolution Regarding Extraterritoriality in China" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  45. ^ "Report of the Commission on Extraterritoriality in China, Peking, September 16, 1926". Hathi Trust Digital Library. Commission on Extraterritoriality in China. Retrieved 12 February 2018. 
  46. ^ Wan, Ching-Chun (July 1937). "China Still Waits the End of Extraterritoriality". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. 
  47. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 179.
  48. ^ Duus, Peter (1998). Modern Japan, Second Ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  49. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 157.
  50. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 150.
  51. ^ Cassel 2012, pp. 150-151.
  52. ^ a b Cassel 2012, p. 160.
  53. ^ Jones, F.C. (1931). Extraterritoriality in Japan. Yale University Press. p. 158. 
  54. ^ Guehler, Ulrich (1949). "A Letter Written by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk H.B.M.'s Consul in Bangkok in 1860" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Society. 37.2f (digital): images 3–4. Retrieved 30 November 2013. Translation of a letter written in German by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk ... sheds a light on living conditions in Siam at the time, especially so on the life at the British Consulate. 
  55. ^ "The Elimination of Extraterritoriality". Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Thailand). Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  56. ^ Eric Lawson (former Commissioner of Police, Bangkok), "Extra-Territoriality as viewed by a police officer", The Police Journal, 3:1, 1930
  57. ^ "Complete Independence". Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Thailand). Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  58. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  59. ^ "Statutory Instrument 2002:1826 – The International Maritime Organisation (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2002" (PDF). The Stationery Office Limited. 16 July 2002. Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  60. ^ Shenzhen Bay Port Hong Kong Port Area Ordinance
  61. ^ Evans, D. M. Emrys (1965). "John F. Kennedy Memorial Act, 1964". The Modern Law Review. 28 (6): 703–706.  http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1964/jul/28/john-f-kennedy-memorial-bill
  62. ^ "American Battle Monuments Commission". Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  63. ^ "Laws and Rules Regarding Extraterritoriality". Integrity Legal Blog. Integrity Legal. 14 July 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2016. 

Further reading

External links