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Extraterritoriality is the state of being exempt from the jurisdiction of local law, usually as the result of diplomatic negotiations. Extraterritoriality can also be applied to physical places, such as 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 certain other diplomatic agents, and public 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.

Historical cases

During the thirteen and fourteenth centuries, the Italianmarker sea republics of Genoa and Venicemarker managed to wrestle extraterritoriality for their quarters (Peramarker and Galatamarker) in the Byzantine capital, Constantinoplemarker.They even battled among themselves for further control of the weakened empire.

Perhaps the most well-known cases of historical extraterritoriality concerned European nationals in 19th century Chinamarker and Japanmarker under the so-called unequal treaties. Extraterritoriality was imposed upon China in the Treaty of Nanjing, resulting from the First Opium War. Shanghai in particular became a major center of foreign activity, as it contained two extraterritorial zones, the International Settlement and the French Concession. Extraterritorial claims were not limited to Western nations; Japan later claimed extraterritorial privileges elsewhere in Asia. These extraterritorialities officially ended only after the end of World War II. The last example of extraterritorial jurisdiction maintained by the United States was in Morocco, which ended in 1957.

Japan recognized extraterritoriality in the treaties concluded with the United Statesmarker, the United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, Netherlandsmarker, and Russiamarker in 1858, in connection with the concept of "Most Favored Nation". However, Japan succeeded in reforming its unequal status with Western countries through the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation signed on July 16, 1894 in London.

Extraterritoriality in China for non-diplomatic personnel ended at various times in the twentieth century. Germanymarker and Austria-Hungary lost their rights in China in 1917 after China joined the allies in World War I; the Soviet Unionmarker gave up its rights in China in 1924; the United Statesmarker and United Kingdommarker gave up their rights in 1943; Italymarker and Japanmarker gave up their rights by virtue of being at war with China in World War II; and Francemarker was the last country to give up its rights, in 1946.

Siammarker signed a treaty granting extraterritorial rights to Britain in 1855 during the reign of King Rama IV. Unequal treaties were later signed with 13 other European powers, as well as Japanmarker. After the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932, the constitutional government promulgated a set of legal codes, setting the stage for new treaties signed between 1937 and 1938 which canceled extraterritorial rights.

The Treaty Ports in Irelandmarker, which were sovereign bases created by the United Kingdommarker in 1922, did not enjoy extraterritoriality from the Irish Free State. They were instead pieces of sovereign territory retained by the United Kingdom, until they were finally ceded to the Free State in 1938.

A historic case of extraterritoriality was the seizure of the railways of Nicaraguamarker by Brown Brothers Harriman, a U.S. banking firm. Under the Knox-Castrillo Treaty of 1911 these railroads became legally part of the State of Mainemarker, according to former president of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo, in his book The Shark and the Sardines (Lyle Stuart, New York, 1961), pp. 210–220, though the Knox-Castrillo Treaty contains no mention of Maine or railroads.

In American Indian contact with EuroAmericans, extraterritoriality once denoted the same idea that beyond given points/lines -- e. g., the Indian Southern Boundary in colonial times -- Indian tribes were beyond white jurisdiction and non-Indians were not to trespass or occupy any lands. With the establishment of reservations, extraterritoriality soon lost this meaning or became a moot designation.

Examples of current extraterritoriality

In popular culture

In the futuristic setting of the Shadowrun role-playing game, major corporations have been granted extraterritoriality.

See also


  1. Duus, Peter (1998). Modern Japan, Second Ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  2. Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Extraterritoriality"
  3. Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Complete Independence"
  4. DeVorsey, Louis,1966,The Indian Boundaries in the Southern Colonies, 1763-1775 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press); Sutton, Imre, 1976, "Sovereign States and the Changing Definition of the Indian Reservation," Geographical Review,66(3):281-95.

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