Special International Zones in Practice and Theory

30 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2018

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Date Written: 2018


The French Republic had a problem. Foreign nationals had flown into the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris and claimed the right to stay as refugees seeking asylum. Unwilling to have the supposed refugees imposed upon it, France resolved to process their claims without letting them into the country. How? By keeping them in the airport’s international transit zone—the area between the exit doors of airplanes arriving from abroad and the far side of customs and immigration clearance. This split border allowed France to summarily process and (typically) deport the foreigners while keeping them outside the country’s territory for asylum purposes. When detainees got seriously ill, France created so-called “floating international zones” to take them to a local hospital, a portion of which became a temporary international zone. These French innovations in border control inspired Hungarian transit zones, Australian migration zones, and similar partial territories across the planet. Few people beyond government attorneys and human rights workers have heard of that particular kind of special international zone, but most people know of the airport transit zone—an area where foreign travelers can catch connecting flights without going through local border controls and buy goods free of local customs, duties, or taxes. Research uncovers still other institutions that aspire to rise above merely local rules, including the United Nation’s headquarters and CERN laboratories. Each of these species fits within a more general genus, the special international zone (“SIZ”): An area that its host nation state places outside of its territory for the purpose of some local laws, leaving other such laws and applicable international obligations in force. Special international zones already exist in great number and variety. They continue to spread, grow, and adapt. This article introduces SIZs as objects worthy of study on many counts, but most particularly because SIZs offer nation states a mechanism for selectively unbundling their territorial services in response to necessity, the constraints of international law, and promotion of the public good.

Keywords: Special International Zones, SIZ, Trade, Immigration, Pre-Asylum, International Transit Zones, Duty-Free, Special Economic Zone, SEZ, Foreign Law

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., Special International Zones in Practice and Theory (2018). Chapman Law Review, Vol. 21, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3271942

Tom W. Bell (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

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