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extraterritoriality

extraterritoriality or exterritoriality, privilege of immunity from local law enforcement enjoyed by certain aliens. Although physically present upon the territory of a foreign nation, those aliens possessing extraterritoriality are considered by customary international law or treaty to be under the legal jurisdiction of their home country. This immunity from law enforcement is reciprocal between countries and is generally provided for visiting heads of state, those in the diplomatic services of foreign nations and their families, and officials of the United Nations. Generally such persons are exempt from both civil and criminal action; they may not be sued or arrested. Their property and residences are inviolable, and they are usually exempt from both personal and property taxes. While extraterritoriality insures that a diplomat will not be prosecuted for illegal behavior, it is emphasized that he is expected to adhere to the laws of the land in which he is serving. Any major transgressions may result not only in a formal complaint to his government but possibly in a demand for his expulsion. Extraterritoriality also extends to public (i.e., state-owned) vessels in foreign territorial waterways and ports. With the exception of the right of a state to regulate navigation within its own waters, a foreign public ship is entirely exempt from local jurisdiction. A private ship, on the other hand, is subject to local laws. With the growth of air transportation, air space over national territory has also become a question of extraterritoriality. There is little agreement, however, concerning the adoption of uniform standards of jurisdiction. Consequently all air agreements are currently bilateral. Extraterritoriality was in the past often granted to aliens not occupying diplomatic positions. After the conquest (1453) of Constantinople by the Turks, for example, extraterritoriality was bestowed as a courtesy upon several European states, notably Venice and Genoa. In the 19th cent. Western powers, often through coercion, secured unilateral extraterritorial rights for their citizens in China, Egypt, Japan, Morocco, Persia, Siam, and Turkey in the belief that these "uncivilized" states were incapable of establishing justice. Consequently the Western consul was assigned to handle all civil and criminal cases involving his countrymen. Extraterritoriality of this type was strongly resented as an infringement of sovereignty and was abolished in Japan in 1899, in Turkey in 1923, and in Egypt in 1949. In China opposition to extraterritoriality was but one phase of resistance to foreign control, which included the treaty port system and territorial concessions in the major cities. In 1924 the USSR voluntarily abandoned its privileges in China, as did the United States and Great Britain in 1943. Italy and Japan lost their special status during World War II because they were enemies of China. In 1946, when France abandoned its privileges, nondiplomatic extraterritoriality in China came to an end.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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