Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)


Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Extraterritoriality is the state of being exempted from the jurisdiction of local law, usually as the result of diplomatic negotiations. Historically, this applied to individuals. 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 foreign waters.


Extraterritoriality is often extended to friendly or allied militaries, particularly for the purposes of allowing that military to simply pass through one's territory.

It is distinguished from personal jurisdiction in the sense that extraterritoriality operates to the prejudice of local jurisdiction.

14th Century

During the thirteenth and fourteenth 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.

Ottoman Empire

Throughout the declining years of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century and twentieth century, 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.

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 and the members of the United States Armed Forces were entirely governed by their own laws, even in criminal cases.


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. 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.

East Asia

The most well-known cases of historical extraterritoriality concerned European nationals in 19th century China, Japan and Siam under the unequal treaties.


Extraterritoriality (without reciprocity) was first imposed upon China by the British in the Treaty of Nanking, resulting from the First Opium War. It was subsequently imposed upon China by the Americans under the Treaty of Wanghia and the Treaty of Tientsin. Shanghai in particular became a major center of foreign activity, as it contained two extraterritorial zones, the Shanghai International Settlement and the Shanghai French Concession. Chinese and non-treaty state nationals in these settlements were subject to Chinese law but were tried by the International Mixed Court which had a Chinese judge and foreign assessor sitting on it. After the collapse of the Chinese government in 1911, its members were subsequently appointed by the Western powers until 1927, when it was replaced by the Shanghai Provisional Court, which continued until 1929. Foreign Nationals of treaty powers were tried by consular courts. The United Kingdom established the British Supreme Court for China in Shanghai in 1865 and the United States the United States Court for China in the early 20th Century.

Extraterritorial rights were not limited to Western nations; Japan and China granted each other reciprocal extraterritorial rights when both opened to trade. Later, in 1895, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki China gave up its extraterritorial rights in Japan and Japan obtained further rights in China. Japan later claimed extraterritorial privileges elsewhere in Asia.

In 1921, an international resolution was signed expressing the willingness of the parties to end extraterritoriality in China once a satisfactory legal system was established by China. 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.

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

Germany and Austria-Hungary lost their rights in China in 1917 after China joined the allies in World War I; the Soviet Union gave up its rights in China in 1924; the United States and United Kingdom gave up their rights in 1943; Italy and Japan gave up their rights by virtue of being at war with China in World War II; and Portugal was the last country to give up its rights, in 1946. For relinquishment by the United States and United Kingdom, see the Sino-American Treaty for Relinquishment of Extraterritorial Rights in China and Sino-British Treaty for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China respectively.


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". Most countries exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction through consular courts. Britain established the British Court for Japan in 1879.

Japan succeeded in reforming its unequal status with Britain through the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation signed on 16 July 1894 in London. Similar treaties were signed with other extraterritorial powers at the same time. These treaties all came into effect in 1899.


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. Unequal treaties were later signed with 13 other European powers, as well as Japan.

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. By 1930, extraterritoriality was in effect no longer in force. 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.

Current examples

  • Examples where countries have ceded some control (for example, the right to enter at will for law enforcement purposes) without ceding sovereignty include the following:
  • Extraterritorial properties of the Holy See in Italy
  • Headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Rome
  • Fort St. Angelo in Malta.
  • United Nations headquarters in New York, United Nations offices in Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, The Hague (International Court of Justice), Hamburg (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea), Copenhagen and elsewhere.
  • CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) - for convenience, some facilities that cross into France are under Swiss jurisdiction
  • European Patent Office in Munich, Berlin and The Hague
  • Longwood House on St. Helena
  • International Maritime Organisation Headquarters in London
  • Shenzhen Bay Port in Shenzhen where an area in a port is leased by Shenzhen to Hong Kong and Hong Kong law applies, though both jurisdictions, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, are in the same state
  • Special Concessions for cemeteries and memorials. National governments can also own property or special concessions in other host countries without gaining any sort of legal jurisdiction or sovereignty, in which case they are treated similarly to other private property owners. For example, ownership of land under the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, England, was given to the United States by the United Kingdom in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Act 1964. Another example of these types of special concessions are the numerous cemeteries and monuments administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. These are located in Belgium, Cuba, France, Gibraltar, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Panama, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. The most popular site among these is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France.
  • Various free ports exist outside the main customs territory of their host country.
  • U.S.–Japan Status of Forces Agreement
  • Contrary to popular belief, diplomatic missions do not generally enjoy full extraterritorial status and are not sovereign territory of the represented state.
  • References

    Extraterritoriality Wikipedia