Jurisdiction Unbound: (Extra)territorial Regulation as Global Governance, ejil.org

Nico Krisch, professor (International Law)

[…] The best-known case of protests against extraterritorial action concerns US secondary sanctions. The EU and other countries have been protesting for decades against US rules that prohibit companies from third countries from trading with sanctioned countries such as Cuba and Iran. The EU has issued its own blocking regulation, protesting against the violation of international law through the regulation by the USA of ‘activities of natural and legal persons under the jurisdiction of the [EU] Member States’.

EU contestation of US secondary sanctions has flared up again in recent years in the wake of the increased use of the instrument in the context of sanctions against Iran and Russia. Many other countries – including Russia, China and India – have likewise protested against such measures imposed by the USA,129 with China recently enacting its own rules to block and counter foreign sanctions. Where they go beyond market access restrictions, secondary sanctions are widely seen as highly problematic not only politically but also as a matter of international law. Only a few firm limits emerge from these cases. First, there is very little acceptance of a regulation of actors and situations that have no concrete connection to the regulating state (except for universal jurisdiction situations); the protective principle does not seem to help here either. Apart from this, the discourse suggests that jurisdictional claims lie on a spectrum of acceptability – the weaker the link with the actors or facts of a case, the more other factors come into play.

Measures are more contested if important policy decisions of other states are counteracted by extraterritorial action. In contrast, they are more widely accepted if measures are linked to international standards or consultations with affected states or if they are of limited intensity – reporting obligations are easier to justify than criminal sanctions. At the same time, there appear to be specific principles of exclusion from jurisdiction that are difficult to touch; the freedom of the high seas would be an example, as seen above in the Torres Strait case. Läs artikel