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Boos v. Barry

Foreign Embassies

Along with its many federal buildings and headquarters of national organizations, the city of Washington, D.C. is dotted with foreign embassies. There are the vast facilities representing large nations which enjoy significant interaction with the United States, embassies which in many cases employ hundreds of staff members. But there are also embassies for countries such as Luxembourg, a nation smaller than many U.S. counties; or Mongolia, which has fewer people than Chicago.

Large or small, however, a certain feature applies to all embassies and consulates (commercial delegations located in cities other than the capital). That is the concept of extraterritoriality, an agreement of international law which exempts diplomatic personnel from the legal jurisdiction of the host country. For Americans overseas, extraterritoriality has often been a saving grace, as for instance when a U.S. citizen wrongfully accused of a crime by authorities under a dictatorial regime obtains asylum in a U.S. facility. On the other hand, the concept of extraterritoriality raises considerable ire at home, often for relatively petty reasons: for instance, Washingtonians are routinely annoyed to find cars bearing embassy license plates parked in "no parking" slots.

More serious was the abuse of extraterritoriality committed by officials at the Libyan People's Bureau (i.e. embassy) in London on 22 April 1984. After persons inside opened fire on bystanders and killed a British policewoman, British authorities demanded that the Libyans turn over the perpetrators. The Libyans refused to do so, and the incident led to the severing of diplomatic ties between Britain and Libya.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Boos v. Barry - Significance, The Split Over Part Ii, Parts Iii, Iv, And V, Foreign Embassies