The Status of Armed Forces in Public International Law: Jurisdiction and Immunity

47 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2015

See all articles by Aurel Sari

Aurel Sari

Law School, University of Exeter

Date Written: January 21, 2015


The presence of foreign troops in the territory of another State raises a range of legal questions. Foremost amongst these are questions of status: what jurisdictional privileges and immunities from local jurisdiction do foreign forces enjoy in another State? International law does not provide a straightforward answer to this question. No overarching legal framework has developed in international law to regulate the legal position of foreign armed forces in a comprehensive manner. The objectives pursued by foreign military deployments and their operational environments are too diverse. The legal framework governing the presence of foreign armed forces is therefore multifaceted and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Unsurprisingly, this creates uncertainty as to the position of customary international law in this area, reinforcing the preference of States and international organizations to define the status of foreign troops by way of tailor-made international agreements. However, international practice recognizes that the unique composition, responsibilities and nature of the armed forces raise special legal and practical considerations. This is reflected both in customary international law and in international treaty practice.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the rules of international law governing the exercise of jurisdiction over national armed forces present in the territory of another State. Section 2 offers a general introduction to the position of the armed forces in international law. Section 3 discusses the legal bases for the exercise of jurisdiction over military personnel present abroad, while section 4 examines the jurisdictional immunities applicable to such forces and their members under general international law. Finally, section 5 turns to the relevant aspects of status of forces agreements.

Keywords: State immunity, armed forces, status, visiting forces

Suggested Citation

Sari, Aurel, The Status of Armed Forces in Public International Law: Jurisdiction and Immunity (January 21, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Aurel Sari (Contact Author)

Law School, University of Exeter ( email )

Amory Building
Rennes Drive
Exeter, EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom
+44 (0)1392 725608 (Phone)


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