Who would have prosecutorial/criminal jurisdiction if a crime was comitted in an embassy in a foreign nation. For example if someone was murdered in the US Embassy in Moscow, or if someone was murdered in the Indian embassy in the USA?

Also, who would have jurisdiction if a crime occurred in the UN building in New York since the UN is under no national jurisdiction?

  • The answer to this will depend on who committed the crime and who the victim was. For example if both of them where members of the diplomatic staff versus both of them being locals hired to work in the embassy.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 0:14
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    @JoeW the answer depends more on what two countries are involved. The receiving country always has jurisdiction; diplomatic immunity and imviolability do not remove the jurisdiction. The sending country may or may not have laws that apply extraterritorially to its diplomatic missions or diplomatic corps.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 3:36
  • You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. If this is a practical question based on an actual problem that you face, you should ask a lawyer in private rather than ask on the Internet. Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 14:50
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    @Peter This is Politics.SE, where enforcing that rule would eliminate 99.9% of the content.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 2:36
  • @BenVoigt, I don't think that's true. Questions about understanding real events help to address actual problems of (a) assessing the truthfulness and spin of politicians and political journalists; and (b) deciding whom to vote for. Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 10:53

3 Answers 3


Legally the host country can prosecute the crime, but the guest country can refuse to let them enter the embassy, and then there is diplomatic immunity. What would happen in practice would depend on the situation.

If the guest country wants the crime to be punished, they can hand over the criminal to the host country's police. Or they can call the host country's police in so they can gather evidence to have a better chance for successful prosecution, obviously you would do that carefully so the police cannot spy on the embassy. In the unlikely case that a diplomat commits a crime (against the interest of his own country), the guest country can revoke that person's diplomatic immunity.

On the other hand, if they don't want the crime to be prosecuted, they can prevent the police from entering the embassy, or a diplomat criminal can just walk away due to diplomatic immunity.

  • 2
    (+1) It's not unheard of for diplomats to get involved in crimes (starting with traffic accidents while driving under the influence). But note that in that case, it's not uncommon for the sending country to repatriate the diplomat and pursue internal disciplinary action or criminal prosecution at home instead of waiving immunity.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 0:56
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    @Relaxed, gnasher729: as I suppose you both know, but it's worth mentioning, even if the sending state does not waive immunity, the receiving state can still expel the diplomat. They cannot force a prosecution, but they do not have to tolerate the person waking around on their streets.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 3:42
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    Yvonne Fletcher was a British police officer on duty outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984 when she was fatally shot. British police determined that the shot was fired from inside the embassy but were unable to enter to conduct investigations. No-one was ever charged. Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 13:22
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    @OscarBravo +1. (this is an ill-phrased question) Whomever has jurisdiction to prosecute a suspect doesn't really matter. Where that suspect is and what they want to do, does. Which in that case was inside and nothing.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 14:39
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    @OscarBravo that is a great illustration why having jurisdiction is not sufficient if they don't have the practical capability to prosecute - they could charge the culprit (likely in absentia) if they could identify them, but they apparently couldn't.
    – Peteris
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 14:50

The host country always has jurisdiction. If the alleged criminals are diplomats, they have diplomatic immunity regardless of whether the crime was on embassy grounds or not.

It is often said that an embassy is foreign soil, but it isn't true. See Is an Embassy on Foreign Soil the Sovereign Territory of the Embassy's Country or the Host Country?

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    Furthermore, embassies are inviolable, but that doesn't mean that the host country cannot prosecute crimes committed on embassy grounds. It just means they cannot arrest people on embassy grounds unless they are invited to do so. Similarly, diplomatic immunity can be waived by the sending state.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 3:39

As others explained, the host country definitely has jurisdiction. Local law enforcement would need to be invited into the embassy to conduct investigations there and diplomatic staff has immunity against any coercive measure but it doesn't mean there is no crime or that prosecution itself is forbidden.

Additionally, some countries have laws on the books providing for prosecution of (serious) crimes committed by or against their citizens, no matter where they take place (abroad, in an embassy or not). Such a law could be used by the sending country to launch an investigation and create some accountability without waiving diplomatic immunity.

Similarly, the sending country could open an investigation if the victim is a diplomat and the host country does not seem interested in prosecuting the crime. Obviously, any coercive measure (subpoena, etc.) and most investigative actions on the territory of the host country would require its cooperation (this has happened before). Depending on the specifics, a third country could even do the same.

Importantly, diplomatic immunity can be waived and, for a diplomat working for an international organization, the decision would be made by the organization itself (and not by the diplomat's country of origin). Depending on who is involved, seeing the immunity waived is a very real possibility in the UN scenario. By contrast, for a diplomat working for a country's delegation, immunity would have to be waived by the sending country and many countries practically never do that (either preferring to prosecute crimes committed by diplomats back home or not holding them accountable at all).

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