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

Historical cases

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.

East Asia

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


Extraterritoriality was imposed upon China in the Treaty of Nanking, 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. Chinese and non-treaty nationals in these settlements were subject to Chinese law but, until 1927, were tried by a hybrid Mixed Court which had a Chinese judge and foreign assessor sitting on it. Foreign Nationals of treaty powers were tried by consular courts. Great Britain established the British Supreme Court for China and Japan in Shanghai in 1865 and America 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.

Extraterritoriality in China for non-diplomatic personnel ended at various times in the twentieth century. 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.


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".[1] 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.


Siam signed a treaty granting extraterritorial rights to Britain in 1855 during the reign of King Rama IV.[2] Unequal treaties were later signed with 13 other European powers, as well as Japan. 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.[3]

American Indian Nations

In American Indian contact with Euro-Americans, 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.[4]

Royal Births

There are a few examples of extraterritorial agreements concerning the birth of royals:

In January 1943 the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital in which Princess Margriet of the Netherlands 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 Princess would derive her citizenship from her mother only, thus making her solely Dutch.[5]

Similarly in 1945, the birth of Alexander, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia happened in Suite 212 of Claridge's Hotel in London, England, United Kingdom, which was temporarily ceded as Yugoslavian territory.[6]

Irish Treaty Ports

It is sometimes thought that the Treaty Ports in Ireland were examples of extraterritoriality. They were sovereign bases created by the United Kingdom 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's successor, the Republic of Ireland, in 1938.

Current examples

See also


External links

  • "Extraterritoriality"
  • Shih Shun Liu, Extraterritoriality, Its Rise and Its Decline (1925)
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