Extraterritorial obligation (ETO)

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One of the four dimensions of a state’s duty (individual, collective, domestic and extraterritorial) as prescribed under international law by treaty and/or by peremptory norms. These include:

"obligations relating to the acts and omissions of a state, within or beyond its territory, that have effects on the enjoyment of human rights outside of that state’s territory and obligations of a global character that are set out in the Charter of the United Nations and human rights instruments to take action, separately, and jointly through international cooperation, to realize human rights universally.[1]

ETOs extend to situations over which the state:

"exercises authority or effective control, whether or not such control is exercised in accordance with international law; situations over which its acts or omissions bring about foreseeable effects on the enjoyment of ESCR, whether within or outside its territory; situations in which it, separately or jointly, through executive, legislative or judicial authorities, is in a position to exercise decisive influence or to take measures to realize ESCR extraterritorially, in accordance with international law.”[2]

ETOs derive from both the international cooperation of states,[3] which is an over-riding principle of human rights implementation,[4] as well as from the extraterritorial dimension of obligations corresponding to the respect, protection and fulfillment of specific human rights.

States, therefore, have an obligation to elaborate, interpret and apply relevant international agreements and standards in a manner consistent with their human rights obligations. Such obligations include those pertaining to international trade, investment, finance, taxation, environmental protection, development cooperation, and security.[5] A State in belligerent occupation, or that otherwise exercises effective control over territory outside its national territory, must respect, protect and fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of persons within that territory. A State exercising effective control over persons outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights of those persons.


[1]   "Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” Article 12, at: http://www.etoconsortium.org/nc/en/library/maastricht-principles/?tx_drblob_pi1%5BdownloadUid%5D=23.

[2]   Ibid., Article 9.

[3]   “Considering that [sic] the progressive development and codification of the following principles:…(d) the duty of States to cooperate with one another in accordance with the Charter;…(g) the principle that States shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter, so as to secure their more-effective application within the international community would promote the realization of the purposes of the United Nations…”: peace and security, forward development and human rights. "Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” GA 2625, adopted without a vote, 24 October 1970, annex.               

[4]   Article 2.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

[5]   Maastricht Principles, op. cit., Article 17.

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