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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: March 2015

9 - The extra-territorial application of human rights: functional universality

Summary

Reach of human rights

Whenever states engage in military operations beyond their borders, the extra-territorial application of human rights becomes an issue. It remains a vividly debated question in international legal scholarship as well as a matter of great practical relevance. At its centre is the notion of jurisdiction and the way in which states are duty-bound and responsible for acts abroad. In human rights law, the application of human rights norms depends on a state’s jurisdiction. It rests on the idea that human rights govern the relationship between the government (and its agents) and those over which the government has jurisdiction, so that a state party to a human rights treaty has obligations towards individuals only in as far as such a jurisdictional link can be established. “Jurisdiction” is, however, an ambiguous term with multiple meanings and no treaty-based legal definition, and there is disagreement on how to confine it with regard to related but different concepts such as attribution, the scope of obligation and the responsibility for wrongful acts. Under general public international law it describes the ability as well as the limits of the legal competence of states to regulate the conduct of (natural and legal) persons by means of its domestic law, and may cover jurisdiction to prescribe, adjudicate and enforce. Such jurisdiction flows from the equal sovereignty of states and describes the extent of each state’s right to regulate such conduct, whether prescriptive (as law-making) or executive (as law enforcement). Jurisdiction is essentially territorial for the way it describes a state’s prerogative to regulate matters on its territory; where it is exercised extra-territorially it is likely to infringe the rights of other states if not expressly consented to.

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