Human rights are declared to be universal, yet the responsibility for protecting these rights – and even responsibility for violating such standards – has been severely limited by territorial considerations. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is the longstanding principle in international law that while a state can always act lawfully within its own domestic borders, in order to act in another state it must first receive permission to do so. A second reason is that many international human rights conventions restrict the scope of states’ obligations by making specific reference to ‘territory’ or ‘jurisdiction’ (or both), yet even when such language is absent, there has been a strong tendency to read such terms into the law.
This chapter outlines the development of the extraterritorial challenge to the dominant ‘territorial’ interpretation of international human rights law. While international law has started to recognize a state's responsibility when it acts directly in another state, what remains contested is when a state acts indirectly, oftentimes by providing aid and assistance to entities in other lands that carry out gross and systematic human rights violations.