Control of Criminal Conduct in Antarctica

57 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2010

See all articles by Richard Bilder

Richard Bilder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: 1966


The continent of Antarctica enjoys a unique experience- the absence of serious crime. However, Antarctica is also unique in another respect as regards potential criminal conduct. Because (as of the time of this article’s publication) neither U.S. nor foreign criminal law will likely apply to U.S. civilians present in Antarctica, it is a place where American civilians may literally “get away with murder.”

The article first sets out the practical context of the problem of controlling criminal conduct in Antarctica – the unique Antarctic environment and history; the nature, organization and scope of U.S. Antarctic activities; and the structure of the American Antarctic community. It then describes and analyzes the current legal situation possibly applicable to criminal conduct by American civilians in Antarctica, suggesting in particular that they: (1) are not covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ); (2) would not be covered by most U.S. criminal statutes since these are generally construed as applying only within U.S. territories and the U.S,. does not claim territory in Antarctica; (3) most such crimes by American civilians in Antarctica would not fall within the “Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States” (18 U.S.C.Sec.7) and related criminal provisions; and (4) the U.S. would not recognize the criminal jurisdiction of foreign countries which have purported to extend their criminal laws to Antarctica since the U.S. does not recognize other countries territorial claims in Antarctica. The article then discusses possible legislative options for dealing with this legal lacuna and concludes by proposing Congressional legislation amending 18 U.S. C. Sec.7 to bring such criminal conduct by American civilians in Antarctica within the “Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States.”

The article may be of interest, not only because of the unique character of the absence of criminal law applicable to American civilians in Antarctica, but also as: (1) illustrating some of the complex considerations which enter into the reciprocal adjustment of international jurisdictional conflicts; (2) indicating how international law may shape and limit domestic legislation; and (3) suggesting possible solutions to analogous problems human beings may face in the exploration of outer space.

Keywords: Antarctica, International Law, Criminal Jurisdiction, Special Maritime And Territorial Jurisdiction Of The U.S., Antarctic Treaty, Criminal Conduct In Antarctica, Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, U.S. Criminal Jurisdiction

JEL Classification: K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Bilder, Richard, Control of Criminal Conduct in Antarctica (1966). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 2, 1966, University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Series Archival Collection, Available at SSRN:

Richard Bilder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
United States

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