International zone

An international zone is any area not fully subject to the border control policies of the state in which it is located. There are several types of international zones ranging from special economic zones and sterile zones at ports of entry exempt from customs rules to concessions over which administration is ceded to one or more foreign states. International zones may also maintain distinct visa policies from the rest of the surrounding state.

Special economic zones

A special economic zone (SEZ) is an area in which the business and trade laws are different from the rest of the jurisdiction within which it is located. SEZs are generally established in order to increase foreign direct investment or facilitate export-oriented manufacturing. Depending on its purpose, an SEZ typically has less strict border control policies with regard to customs. An export processing zone will typically allow for goods manufactured for export to be exempt from excise tax and for capital goods and raw materials to be exempt from customs duties upon import, while a bonded logistics park will typically exempt a designated area from all or most customs regulations. The most extreme category of SEZ is a freeport (e.g. Luxembourg Freeport, Singapore Freeport, Geneva Freeport), in which goods stored or transhipped are treated as never having entered the host jurisdiction.

Uniquely, Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty,[1] which recognises the sovereignty of Norway over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard but subjects it to certain stipulations and consequently not all Norwegian law applies, including border controls. The treaty regulates the demilitarisation of the archipelago. The signatories were given equal rights to engage in commercial activities (mainly coal mining) on the islands. As of 2012, Norway and Russia are making use of this right. Similarly, simplified visa policies are in force for Iran's special economic zones of Kish and Qeshm islands, and for Iraqi Kurdistan.


A concession is a territory within a state over which another state has been granted jurisdiction. During the Age of Imperialism, concessions were frequently granted to colonial or imperial powers. Notably, United Nations' Headquarters in New York City, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi[2] are administered as international concessions by the United Nations, while still subject to most local and national laws.[3] As the United Nations requires delegates from all member states to be permitted to attend meetings at its headquarters, host countries maintain special visa arrangements such as the C-2 transit visa which enables otherwise inadmissible foreign officials to enter the United States, provided they remain within the vicinity of the UN headquarters.[4]

The Tangier International Zone was a 373 square kilometre concession administered by several countries in the Moroccan city of Tangier and its environs between 1923 and 1956. Much like the Shanghai International Settlement, the government and administration of the zone was in the hands of a number of foreign powers. The Zone had its own appointed International Legislative Assembly, which was subject to supervision by a Committee of Control consisting of the Consuls of Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.[5] Executive power was vested in an Administrator, and judicial power resided in a Mixed Court of five judges, respectively appointed by the Belgian, British, Spanish, French, and Italian governments.[5] As a result of the creation of the Mixed Court, the various European powers withdrew the consular courts that previously exercised jurisdiction there.[6] The Zone had a reputation for tolerance, diversity of culture, religion, and bohemianism. It became a tourist hotspot for literary giants and gay men from Western countries. Many of the latter were able to live an openly "out" life in the Zone.[7][8] In July 1952 the protecting powers met at Rabat to discuss the Zone's future, agreeing to abolish it. Tangier joined with the rest of Morocco following the restoration of full sovereignty in 1956.[9]

The Tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire Osman I, has been located in northern Syria since the empire's collapse. The 1921 Treaty of Ankara [lower-alpha 1] established the area surrounding the tomb as a Turkish concession. The tomb was moved in 1973 as the site was to be flooded by the creation of Lake Assad, and in 2015 it was relocated unilaterally by Turkey in response to the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian government denounced the move as incompatible with the 1921 treaty; Turkey plans to move the tomb back to the second site.[11]


The island port of Dejima was a Portuguese and, later, Dutch concession near the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Established to house Portuguese traders during the Nanban trade, it was later ceded to Dutch administration between 1641 and 1854. Under the Sakoku policy in force during the Edo period, it was Japan's only point of interaction with the outside world. Border controls limited passage of foreign merchants from Dejima to Nagasaki and of Japanese from Nagasaki to Dejima.[12][13] Similarly, the island of Macau was ceded by China during the Ming dynasty to the Portuguese, who administered it as a trading hub between 1557 and 1999. In the aftermath of the Opium Wars, the Ming Dynasty's successor Qing Dynasty ceded the island of Hong Kong and the surrounding area to the British under the Treaty of Nanjing, resulting in the area being administered as a British trading hub until 1997.

During the late Qing years, significant portions of Chinese territory, primarily along the coast, were surrendered as concessions to occupying powers including many European powers as well as Japan and the United States. Each concession had its own police force, and different legal jurisdictions with their own separate laws. Thus, an activity might be legal in one concession but illegal in another. Many of the concessions also maintained their own military garrison and standing army. Military and police forces of the Chinese government were sometimes present. Some police forces allowed Chinese, others did not. In these concessions, the citizens of each foreign power were given the right to freely inhabit, trade, spread religious propaganda, and travel. They developed their own sub-cultures, isolated and distinct from the intrinsic Chinese culture, and colonial administrations attempted to give their concessions "homeland" qualities. Churches, public houses, and various other western commercial institutions sprang up in the concessions. In the case of Japan, its own traditions and language naturally flourished. Some of these concessions eventually had more advanced architecture of each originating culture than most cities back in the countries of the foreign powers origin. Chinese were originally forbidden from most of the concessions, but to improve commercial activity and services, by the 1860s most concessions permitted Chinese, but treated them like second-class citizens as they were not citizens of the foreign state administering the concession. They eventually became the majority of the residents inside the concessions. Non-Chinese in the concessions were generally subject to consular law, and some of these laws applied to the Chinese residents. Notable Concessions include the Shanghai International Settlement administered by the United Kingdom and the United States, the French Concession in Shanghai , the Kwantung Leased Territory, and the Beijing Legation Quarter.

The foreign concessions in China continued to exist during the mainland period of the Republic of China. In major cities like Shanghai and Tianjin, due to the existence of numerous jurisdictions, criminals could commit a crime in one jurisdiction and then easily escape to another. This became a major problem during the Republican period, with the rise of post–Imperial Warlord era and the collapse of central authority in the 1920s and the 1930s. Crime often flourished, especially organised crime by different warlord groups.

The majority of concessions in Asia were treaty ports, port cities in China and Japan that were opened to foreign trade mainly by the unequal treaties forced upon them by Western powers, as well as cities in Korea opened up similarly by the Japanese Empire prior to its annexation of the Korean peninsula.[14] The treaty port system in China lasted approximately one hundred years beginning with the 1841 Opium War. The system effectively ended when Japan took control of most of the ports in the late 1930s, The Russians relinquished their treaty rights in the wake of the Russian revolution in 1917, and the Germans were expelled in 1914. The three main treaty powers, the British, the Americans, and the French continued to hold their concessions and extraterritorial jurisdictions until the Second World War. This ended when the Japanese stormed into their concessions in late 1941. They formally relinquished their treaty rights in a new "equal treaties" agreement with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government in exile in Chongqing in 1943. The international communities that were residues of the treaty port era ended in the late 1940s when the communists took over and nearly all foreigners left.

Within the concessions in China, the occupying foreign powers administered distinct legal systems. The two main courts judging extraterritorial cases were the Shanghai Mixed Court and the British Supreme Court for China.[15] Similar courts were established for treaty countries, e.g. the United States Court for China.[16] These had jurisdiction over the concession areas, which formally remained under Qing sovereignty.[17] Initially, Chinese people who committed crimes in, say, the British zone, were remanded to Chinese authorities.[18]

Suez and Panama canals

The Suez and Panama Canals were originally established as concessions administered by the foreign powers who funded their construction. Between 1859 and 1956, the British and French owned Suez Canal Company operated the Suez Canal while the United States government administered the area surrounding the Panama Canal from 1903 to 1999. Concessionary administration of the Suez Canal was ended when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the company during the Suez Crisis while American administration of the Panama Canal ended as a result of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties in which the United States voluntarily renounced its concession over the Panama Canal Zone.

Overseas military bases

Overseas military bases such as the American-administered Thule Air Base in Greenland and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or the British-administered Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus are a distinct category of concession ceded by a host state solely for military purposes. The jurisdictional authority ceded to the administering military force varies from base to base depending on the agreement concluded by the host and administering state. For example, Khmeimim Air Base in Syria is leased to the Russian government for a period of 49 years and the Russian government exercises extraterritorial jurisdiction over the air base and its personnel[19][20] while the British government administers Akrotiri and Dhekelia (designated as "sovereign base areas" under the treaty establishing Cypriot independence) as an overseas territory.

Sterile zones at ports of entry

The sterile zone at a port of entry is the area where arriving international passengers have not formally entered the country by clearing arrival customs and immigration controls, and departing passengers have formally exited the country by clearing exit immigration control. Sterile zones are most commonly found in international airports, while they also exist at certain seaports and land crossings. Despite their usual exemption from local immigration and customs laws, international zones at ports of entry are fully under the jurisdiction of the country where they are located and local laws apply. Persons caught committing an unlawful act (e.g. possession of contraband such as illegal drugs) in the international zone are liable for prosecution.

Within international airports, transit passengers can usually take connecting international flights in the international zone without clearing customs and immigration controls, and in most cases do not require a visa.[21][22][23] Some countries, however, require transit passengers of certain nationalities to hold a direct airside transit visa[24] even when they would not need to pass through border controls. In order to exempt passengers transiting between international flights from clearing border controls, most international airports outside North America feature a sterile zone which only authorized employees and processed passengers with a valid ticket are allowed to enter.[25]

Two major exceptions are the United States and Canada, where airports typically have no international transit zones. All passengers arriving on international flights are subject to customs and immigration inspections. Nationals of countries other than the United States and Canada at a U.S. airport requires at least a C-1 transit visa, or ESTA for eligible travellers. Meanwhile, transiting at a Canadian airport for nationals of countries other than Canada or the United States generally requires a visa or Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) except for individuals proceeding to or from the United States who qualify for the China Transit Program or Transit Without Visa Program.

A common feature of sterile zones at airports and occasionally land and sea borders, duty-free shops sell products tax-free to customers who have cleared exit border controls prior to boarding and, in some places, to passengers arriving from overseas. Most countries impose limits on how much of each type of duty-free goods, may be purchased by each passenger. The airport with the most duty-free sales is Seoul Incheon Airport with US$1.85 billion in 2016.[26] Dubai International Airport is second, recording transactions worth $1.82 billion in 2016.[27]

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, an airport located in France 20 kilometres southeast of Mulhouse and 3.5 kilometres northwest of Basel (Switzerland), contains a binational sterile zone including a customs road allowing passengers travelling to and from Switzerland to access the airport without passing through French customs control. The airport has been jointly operated by the two countries since a 1946 treaty. Geneva Airport in Switzerland has similar facilities for French travellers.[28][29]

Demilitarised zones

A demilitarised zone is an area in which treaties or agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups forbid military installations, activities or personnel. They often lie along de jure or de facto frontiers or boundaries between two or more military powers or alliances. Demilitarised zones should not be confused with border zones, which are areas lying along a border established unilaterally by a state for border control purposes.

Many demilitarised zones are considered neutral territory because neither side is allowed to control it, even for non-combat administration. Some zones remain demilitarised after an agreement has awarded control to a state which (under the DMZ terms) had originally ceded its right to maintain military forces in the disputed territory. It is also possible for powers to agree on the demilitarisation of a zone without formally settling their respective territorial claims, enabling the dispute to be resolved by peaceful means such as diplomatic dialogue or an international court.

Several demilitarised zones have also unintentionally become wildlife preserves because their land is unsafe for construction or less exposed to human disturbances (including hunting). Examples include the Korean Demilitarised Zone, the Cypriot Demilitarised Zone (The Green Line), and the former Vietnamese Demilitarised Zone which divided Vietnam into two countries (North Vietnam and South Vietnam) from 21 July 1954 to 2 July 1976.


As a result of the partition of the Korean peninsula by the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II, and exacerbated by the subsequent Korean War, there is a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) spanning the de facto border between North and South Korea. The DMZ follows the effective boundaries as of the end of the Korean War in 1953. Similarly to the Frontier Closed Area in Hong Kong, this zone and the defence apparatus that exists on both sides of the border serve to curtail unauthorised passage between the two sides. In South Korea, there is an additional fenced-off area between the Civilian Control Line (CCL) and the start of the Demilitarised Zone. The CCL is a line that designates an additional buffer zone to the Demilitarised Zone within a distance of 5 to 20 kilometres from the Southern Limit Line of the Demilitarised Zone. Its purpose is to limit and control the entrance of civilians into the area in order to protect and maintain the security of military facilities and operations near the Demilitarised Zone. The commander of the 8th US Army ordered the creation of the CCL and it was activated and first became effective in February 1954.[30] The buffer zone that falls south of the Southern Limit Line is called the Civilian Control Zone. Barbed wire fences and manned military guard posts mark the CCLe. South Korean soldiers typically accompany tourist busses and cars travelling north of the CCL as armed guards to monitor the civilians as well as to protect them from North Korean intruders. Most of the tourist and media photos of the "Demilitarised Zone fence" are actually photos of the CCL fence. The actual Demilitarised Zone fence on the Southern Limit Line is completely off-limits to everybody except soldiers and it is illegal to take pictures of the Demilitarised Zone fence.

Similarly, the whole estuary of the Han River in the Korean Peninsula is deemed a "Neutral Zone" and is officially off-limits to all civilian vessels. Only military vessels are allowed within this neutral zone.[lower-alpha 2] In recent years, Chinese fishing vessels have taken advantage of the tense situation in the Han River Estuary Neutral Zone and illegally fished in this area due to both North Korean and South Korean navies never patrolling this area due to the fear of naval battles breaking out. This has led to firefights and sinkings of boats between Chinese fishermen and South Korean Coast Guard.[32][33] On January 30, 2019, North Korean and South Korean military officials signed a landmark agreement that would open the Han River Estuary to civilian vessels for the first time since the Armistice Agreement in 1953. The agreement was scheduled to take place in April 2019 but the failure of the 2019 Hanoi Summit indefinitely postponed these plans.[34][35][36]

In 1962, the International Court of Justice had ordered the creation of a "provisional demilitarised zone" around the Preah Vihear Temple whose ownership is claimed by both Cambodia and Thailand.[37]

During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, when they administered as the puppet state of Manchukuo, the Tanggu Truce of May 1933 was concluded between China and Japan, establishing a demilitarised zone between Manchukuo and China. In 1937 Japan violated this truce with an invasion of the remainder of China. In 1945, after the fall of the Japanese empire at the end of the Asia-Pacific theatre of World War II, Manchuria was re-incorporated into China. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, there was a demilitarised zone between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The zone was established in July 1954 as a result of the Geneva Conference ending the war between the Viet Minh and France. The DMZ in Vietnam officially lay at the 17th parallel but, in reality, extended about 1.5 km on either side of the Bến Hải River and west to east from the Lao border to the South China Sea. The Vietnamese demilitarised zone was abolished following the reunification of the country in 1976.

Europe and the Middle East

Demilitarised zones are common in Europe and the Middle East, especially in areas with territorial disputes in the aftermath of military conflicts.


Historical map of the promontory of Gibraltar.


South America

Martin García Island – The Rio de la Plata Boundary Treaty of 1973 between Argentina and Uruguay established that the island would remain under Argentinean sovereignty but could only be used as a natural reserve of flora and fauna.

The El Caguán Demilitarised zone was established in southern Colombia between 1999 and 2002, during the failed peace process that involved the Government of President Andrés Pastrana and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).


Under the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica is administered as an international zone. The treaty forbids military activity in Antarctica, such as "the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military manoeuvres, as well as the testing of any type of weapon", although it does provide for the "use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purpose".[52] The treaty establishes the continent as a preserve for scientific research, suspends[lower-alpha 4] all territorial claims over the continent, and permits all states to establish research stations on the continent.

Antarctica currently has no permanent population and therefore it has no citizenship nor government. Personnel present on Antarctica at any time are almost always citizens or nationals of some sovereignty outside Antarctica, as there is no Antarctic sovereignty. Consequently, individuals who commit crimes in Antarctica are typically subject to the jurisdiction of their country of nationality, the victim's country of nationality (if applicable), or the country administering the base in or expedition during which the crime occurred.

Governments that are party to the Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection implement the articles of these agreements, and decisions taken under them, through national laws. These laws generally apply only to their own citizens, wherever they are in Antarctica, and serve to enforce the consensus decisions of the consultative parties: about which activities are acceptable, which areas require permits to enter, what processes of environmental impact assessment must precede activities, and so on. The Antarctic Treaty is often considered to represent an example of the common heritage of mankind principle.[56]

Outer space

Outer space is generally regarded as an international zone insofar as it falls outside the national jurisdiction of any state. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty expressly forbids states from claiming celestial bodies such as the Moon or a planet as their own territory, whether by declaration, occupation, or "any other means".[57] However, the state that launches a space object, such as a satellite or space station, retains jurisdiction and control over that object;[58] by extension, a state is also liable for damages caused by its space object.[59] Additionally, the treaty limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and prohibits their use for testing weapons of any kind, conducting military manoeuvres, or establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications (Article IV). However, the treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit, and thus some highly destructive attack tactics, such as kinetic bombardment, are still potentially allowable.[60] Furthermore, the treaty explicitly allows the use of military personnel and resources to support peaceful uses of space, mirroring the Antarctic Treaty's position on military deployment in that continent.

While most satellites and space stations are administered by the state that deployed them, the International Space Station is governed by an international framework established by the Agreement Concerning Cooperation on the Civil International Space Station. Under the agreement, each state is responsible for any liability associated with the components it contributes to the station[61] and for the management of their programmes and utilisation of the station.[62] Furthermore, each participating state exercises criminal jurisdiction over its personnel on the station except where the victim of a crime is a national of another participating state and the perpetrator's state of nationality does not prosecute the offence.[63]

Other examples


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  22. "Fugitive Former Spy; Lured Out Of Libya, Arrested At Kennedy". The New York Times. 26 August 1981. Presumably confident, Mr. Wilson left Tripoli several days ago on his way to the Dominican Republic, with brief stops in Switzerland and Madrid. Law-enforcement officials said that Mr. Wilson, traveling under an assumed name on the Irish passport, never left the international zone of the two European airports. He made several calls to bankers while in Switzerland, they said.
  23. "Team Of Ex-Green Berets Trained Terrorists For Libyan Government". The New York Times. 27 June 1982. In Washington, on July 25, Mr. Thompson and three former Green Berets were given travel documents, $1,000 in cash, airplane tickets to Zurich via New York, and a description of a man who would meet them at the Zurich airport. We were told to stay in the international zone and not to go through customs in Zurich, Mr. Thompson said.
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  25. Rodney Wallis (2003). How Safe are Our Skies?: Assessing the Airlines' Response to Terrorism. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-275-97847-1.
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  1. The treaty, ratified by France, which ruled Syria at the time, states that the tomb "shall remain, with its appurtenances, the property of Turkey, who may appoint guardians for it and may hoist the Turkish flag there".[10]
  2. According to the July 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement civil shipping was supposed to be permissible in the Han River estuary and allow Seoul to be connected to the Yellow Sea (West Sea) via the Han River.[31] However, both Koreas and the UNC failed to make this happen. The South Korean government ordered the construction of the Ara Canal to finally connect Seoul to the Yellow Sea, which was completed in 2012. Seoul was effectively landlocked from the ocean until 2012. The biggest limitation of the Ara Canal is it is too narrow to handle any vessels except small tourist boats and recreational boats, so Seoul still cannot receive large commercial ships or passenger ships in its port.
  3. The peacekeeping force currently has its headquarters at the abandoned Nicosia International Airport, where the majority of peacekeepers are based and where talks between the two governments are held.
  4. The treaty neither affirms nor rejects territorial claims previously asserted by parties but provides that no new territorial claims shall be asserted while it is in force and provides for the continent to by administered as an international zone during that time. The majority of Antarctica is claimed by one or more countries, but most countries do not explicitly recognise those claims. The area on the mainland between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west is the only major land on Earth not claimed by any country.[53] Until 2015 the interior of the Norwegian Sector, the extent of which had never been officially defined,[54] was considered to be unclaimed. That year, Norway formally laid claim to the area between its Queen Maud Land and the South Pole.[55]
  5. West Berliners could transfer between the S-Bahn, U-Bahn and long-distance trains to the West without passing through East German border control. The station featured an East German government-run Intershop, which sold duty-free and high-quality items at lower prices compared to the West.

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