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Extradition is a formal process by which a criminal suspect held by one government is handed over to another government for trial or, if the suspect has already been tried and found guilty, to serve his or her sentence.


Extradition treaties or agreements

The consensus in international law is that a state does not have any obligation to surrender an alleged criminal to a foreign state, as one principle of sovereignty is that every state has legal authority over the people within its borders. Such absence of international obligation and desire of the right to demand such criminals of other countries has caused a web of extradition treaties or agreements to evolve; most countries in the world have signed bilateral extradition treaties with most other countries.

No country in the world has an extradition treaty with all other countries; for example, the United States (US) lacks extradition treaties with over fifty nations, including the People's Republic of China and North Korea. However, South Korea signed an extradition treaty with the United States on June 9, 1998, which entered into force on December 20, 1999. The Philippines signed an extradition treaty with the United States on November 13, 1994, which entered into force on November 22, 1996.

An extradition treaty spells out the terms of an extradition. It includes a list of crimes for which a person can be extradited, or else covers them all with descriptions such as "any crime punishable with three years' imprisonment or some heavier penalty". It is usually reciprocal in terms of conditions, but there are exceptions. Generally, an extradition treaty requires that a country seeking extradition be able to show that:

  • The relevant crime is sufficiently serious.
  • There exists a prima facie case against the individual sought.
  • The event in question qualifies as a crime in both countries. This is known as the principle of "dual criminality".
  • The extradited person can reasonably expect a fair trial in the receiving end.
  • The likely penalty will be proportionate to the crime.


Most countries require themselves to deny extradition requests if, in the government's opinion, the suspect is sought for a political crime. Many countries, such as Mexico, Canada and most European ones, will not allow extradition if the death penalty may be imposed on the suspect unless they are assured that the death sentence will not subsequently be passed on or carried out. These restrictions are normally clearly spelled out in the extradition treaties that a government has agreed upon. They are however controversial in the United States, where the death penalty is practiced in some US states, as it is seen by many as an attempt by foreign nations to interfere with the US criminal justice system. In contrast, pressures by the US government on these countries to change their laws, or even sometimes to ignore their laws, is perceived by many in those nations as an attempt by the United States to interfere in their sovereign right to manage justice within their own borders, or even downright bullying. Famous examples include the extradition row with Canada on Charles Ng.

Countries with a rule of law typically make extradition subject to review by that country's courts. These courts may impose certain restrictions on extradition, or prevent it altogether, if for instance they deem the accusations to be based on dubious evidence, or evidence obtained from torture, or if they believe that the defendant will not be granted a fair trial on arrival, or will be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment if extradited.

Some countries, such as France, Germany, China and Japan, have laws that forbid extraditing their respective citizens. Some others stipulate such prohibition on extradition agreements rather than their laws. Such restrictions are occasionally controversial in other countries when, for example, a French citizen commits a crime abroad and then returns to his home country, perceived as to avoid prosecution1. These countries, however, make their criminal laws applicable to citizens abroad, and they try citizens suspected of crimes committed abroad under their own laws. Such suspects are typically prosecuted as if the crime had occurred within the country's borders.

Exemptions in the European Union

The usual extradition agreement safeguards relating to dual-criminality, the presence of prima facie evidence and the possibility of a fair trial have been waived by many European nations for a list of specified offences under the terms of the European Union arrest warrant. The warrant entered into force in eight European Union (EU) member-states on 1st January, 2004. Defenders of the warrant argue that the usual safeguards are not necessary because every EU nation is committed by treaty, and often by legal and constitutional provisions, to the right to a fair trial, and because every EU member-state is subject to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Extradition to federations

The federal structure of some nations, such as the United States (US), can pose particular problems with respect to extraditions. This is because foreign countries do not have official relations with sub-national units such as the individual states composing the US; rather, they have relations with the federal government. This means, for example, that the federal government may, in a particular case, certify to a foreign nation that the death penalty will not be sought, and that if it is pronounced it will not be applied, but some contend that such a commitment is not binding on state courts when the matter is of state jurisdiction. On the other hand, should an individual state decide to execute a person extradited, the federal government would be in violation of its commitment with respect to foreign nations and to what it has agreed upon by treaty.

Less important problems can arise due to differing qualifications for crimes. For instance, in the United States, crossing state lines is a prerequisite for certain federal crimes (otherwise crimes such as murder etc. are handled by state governments except in certain circumstances such as the killing of a federal official). This transportation clause is, understandably, absent from the laws of many countries. Extradition treaties or subsequent diplomatic correspondence often include language providing that such criteria should not be taken into account when checking if the crime is one in the country from which extradition should take place.


International strains

The refusal for a country to extradite suspects or criminals to another may lead to international relations being strained. Often, the country to which extradition is refused will accuse the other country of refusing extradition for political reasons (whether or not this is justified). As an example:

  • Some US journalists and officials of the state of Pennsylvania accused France of wanting to make a point about justice in the United States and the death penalty by refusing to extradite Ira Einhorn (who was eventually extradited after 3 years of procedure).
  • A widespread belief in the French public is that the United Kingdom intentionally delayed the extradition of Rachid Ramda (see 1995 Islamist terror bombings in France) in order to buy safety from Islamic terror attacks on British soil. As of 2005, 10 years after the events, extradition has not yet occurred. (See Londonistan.)

The matters are often complex when the country from which suspects are to be extradited is a democratic country with a rule of law. Typically, in such countries, the final decision of extradition lies with the national executive (prime minister, president or equivalent). However, such countries typically allow extradition defendants recourse to the law, with multiple appeals. These may significantly slow down the procedures. On the one hand, this may lead to unwarranteds international difficulties, as the public, politicians and journalists from the requesting country will ask their executive to put pressure on the executive of the country from which extradition is to take place, while that executive may not in fact have the authority to deport the suspect or criminal on his own. On the other hand, certain delays, or the unwillingness of the local prosecution authorities to present a good extradition case before the court on behalf of the requesting state, may possibly result from the unwillingness of the country's executive to extradite.

Extradition and abduction

Issues of international law relating to extradition have proven controversial in cases where a state has abducted and removed an individual from the territory of another state without previously requesting permission, or following normal extradition procedures. Such abductions are usually in violation of the domestic law of the country in which they occur, as infringements of laws forbidding kidnapping. Many also regard abduction as violation of international law — in particular of a prohibition on arbitrary detention. Therefore, only a handful of countries resort to kidnapping.

Notable or controversial cases involving abduction of foreign citizens:

Extraordinary rendition

See main article: extraordinary rendition.

Extraordinary rendition, which has been called a euphemism for torture by proxy, refers to a procedure practiced by the government of the United States (and possibly aided by other western countries) whereby suspects are sent to countries in which torture is routinely used in interrogation. As described in various reports in the media, suspects have been arrested, blindfolded, shackled, and sedated, and transported by private jet or other means to the destination country. The reports also say that U.S. agencies have provided interrogators with lists of questions. Although Egypt has been the most common destination, suspected terrorists have been renditioned to other countries, such as Jordan and Syria.

These actions are not like extradition in the usual sense of the word regarding a country with a rule of law, none the less because suspects are not given any recourse to the law.


  1. One famous example of the French custom in practice is the case of the director Roman Polanski. Polanski was convicted of statutory rape of a 13 year old in the United States in 1977 but fled to France before sentencing. From there, as a French citizen, he cannot be extradited to the United States. The French government has pointed out that Polanski could be prosecuted in France if the US authorities so requested. US authorities declined that possibility.

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