How does international policing work for countries that are not part of Interpol and do not have extradition treaties in place?

For example if a North Korean citizen was suspected of murdering a German citizen but had since travelled back to North Korea how would this be handled by law enforcement?

Obviously North Korea wouldn't let in a foreign police officer to interrogate one of their own citizens nor extradite them. What happens in this case? Is it simply a case of tough luck?

  • Thank you for including an example - the question didn't make much sense until I read it.
    – Bobson
    Oct 20 '14 at 14:09
  • What is a "rogue state"?
    – gerrit
    Jul 28 '15 at 18:19

This doesn't just happen with rogue states; there are several notable examples of people who are wanted by one country but who live in a country which is refusing to extradite them and yet is not normally considered a rogue state. If extradition is denied, it's denied -- the person in question has to be careful what countries they visit, but the country requesting extradition has no options beyond those normally available for handling countries that annoy them (reduced cooperation, sanctions, in very severe cases military action, that sort of thing).

In most cases, though, a single fugitive is not worth seriously damaging diplomatic relations, so the most that would probably happen is that the country that wants the person will keep filing extradition requests. A country might consider military over someone like bin Laden, but wouldn't go to war for a common criminal.

Note that as Anixx points out in comments, "we won't extradite" doesn't necessarily mean "we won't punish." In the examples I mentioned it did, but many countries will not extradite their citizens but are willing to prosecute them at home for crimes abroad (they don't extradite their citizens because a country is supposed to protect its citizens instead of handing them over to foreign authorities; they punish their citizens for crimes abroad because no one actually wants murders or their serious crimes to go unpunished). I know France is like this, and according to Anixx so are Germany and Russia among others. It's not certain that there will be a prosecution (that's up to the country the person fled to), but there certainly can be.

  • 2
    Refusing extradition does not necessarily mean that the country refuses to make investigation and punishment. Germany, for instance (and Russia) have laws that they cannot extradite their own citizens. This does not mean that a German tourist killing somebody abroad would go unpunished.
    – Anixx
    Jul 24 '15 at 12:47
  • @Anixx Good point; updating answer.
    – cpast
    Jul 24 '15 at 13:12

In a scenario like the one you described it would generally be a case of tough luck. An extradition treaty just means that two countries have agreed to create a standing process to return criminals, countries that don't have existing treaties could still negotiate on an individual basis.

If a country refused to agree to extradite someone a country could always use that as justification for an armed response or extraordinary rendition. This would require the target criminal to be extremely important however as the potential blow-back would be huge.

If a country harboring a suspect were to refuse to negotiate a suspected criminals return and the other country doesn't want to invade then nothing more really happens. That suspect would have to remain in the same country for the rest of their life though since other countries would likely be less willing to harbor them.


Many (most?) countries do not extradite their own citizens, that's really not specific to rogue states. Some countries will prosecute their own citizens instead but that's not always easy to do in practice.

It's important to realize that international law is generally messy and based on consent from each individual state. Interpol does not have nearly as many powers as frequently pictured in fiction and even with an extradition treaty in place it's not trivial to have someone extradited. It's all very ad hoc and imperfect so yes, it's often a case of “tough luck” and not only with North Korea.

Whatever the problem, the only real recourses are the usual diplomatic actions: Official complaints, summoning the other country's ambassador, pulling one's ambassador, breaking off relationship, etc. In most cases, a country will not escalate the situation for a simple criminal case.

In your particular example, the country of the victim could certainly initiate proceedings, start gathering evidence immediately, issue arrest warrants, possibly go as far as judging the suspect in abstentia (I don't think Germany does it but other European states do or at least did until very recently). It will be difficult to actually carry out any sentence but it will severely restricts the perpetrator's ability to leave his refuge.

Here is another prominent case illustrating this (and unlike Snowden, it's not even about Russia and spies, it's about France, Switzerland and the US and a run-of-the-mill criminal case).

Also, North Korea is a particularly restive state so I have no idea how they might react but “rogue”, failed or authoritarian states are not especially protective of their own citizens. Obviously, they might refuse to do anything just to be seen resisting pressure from the outside but unless the individual is particularly well connected, I can just as easily imagine that such a state would welcome the opportunity to score some political points by punishing the suspect harshly or possibly try to turn a potential extradition into some kind of bargaining chip.

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