Barack Obama has said following:

My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr Snowden asylum recognise that they are a part of an international community and they should be abiding by international law.

Is there in fact any international law or multilateral treaty, which would require countries to detain and extradite other countries' suspects?

If not, does any of mentioned countries have any bilateral treaties with US regarding the subject?

  • This is way too broad. To properly answer your question a whole academic course at International law is required.
    – SIMEL
    Jun 28, 2013 at 16:42
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    International laws are made by agreement between nations, they exist when the (specific) nations have agreed to them. The USA has such agreements/laws with some countries and not others. The laws which do exist are complicated and they include various exceptions (for example they may depend on the type of crime, etc).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2013 at 17:02
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    For example, newspapers wrote that the treaty between Hong Kong and the USA wouldn't cover "political crimes" or the extradition of political dissidents: and therefore the arrest warrant which the USA gave Hong Kong was for "unlawful use of a computer".
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2013 at 17:11
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    ChrisW: usually if someone talks about "international laws", that means something broader than bilateral treaties. Geneva convention would be good example of international law.
    – vartec
    Jun 28, 2013 at 18:27
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    @vartec The Geneva convention is similar, in that it's a multilateral treaty (or treaties). Sovereign countries (unlike people) don't have "international laws" which they must obey without having agreed to them. The USA is an example of a country which refuses to ratify many other "international laws" (treaties) which most other countries agree to (and thus agree to be bound by).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2013 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


There's no extradition treaty between the US and Russia. The state department FAQ says,

Where can I find a list of countries with which the United States has extradition treaties?

You may find a list of these countries at 18 U.S.C. § 3181.

The link is to http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/71600.pdf, which makes no mention of Russia. So if you're prepared to accept the US Government's word for it, Russia is not a country with which the US has an extradition treaty.

Anyway I don't believe that what you quote actually contains a claim by Obama that Russia is not abiding by international law. It certainly doesn't specify what the legal nature of the breach might be, if there is a breach involved either in "talking about potentially offering Snowden asylum", or in actually offering it. It doesn't claim that Russia would be required to extradite.

What it says is, that Russia should abide by international law. Or, literally, it just says that it is expected that they will recognise that they should abide. This "claim" is of course true as far as it goes, which isn't far.

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    Please provide some references to support your claims. There are a lot of claims here, and only a single Wikipedia page to support them.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 2, 2014 at 23:26
  • @Oddthinking Could you identify which claims need references? IMO it's difficult to know what needs referencing and what's common knowledge.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 2, 2014 at 23:30
  • I entirely agree that this answer is under-referenced for what it says, but also I don't know what requires reference. The reference I gave (admittedly only Wikipedia) was specifically because that part addresses the actual question asked. It was not intended to support the whole piece. I don't know what else is a "significant claim" in the context of this question. I intended any or all of it as leads for someone to look further into the potentially-relevant international law. But by the nature of what Obama said, I can't speak to his "notable claim", only things he might be on about. Dec 2, 2014 at 23:41
  • Unfortunately one good way to write a well-referenced answer is to pretend that you don't know a subject and cannot write about it yourself, and instead read a bit of google.com/search?q=international+law to find juicy/relevant block-quotes which you can piece together into an answer. Alternatively find someone who is peer-reviewed and expert (and more authoritative than the president), whose is writing about this specific subject, and quote them.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 2, 2014 at 23:52
  • @ChrisW: Well, I don't want to be too egotistical here. I've never formally studied the subject. Which is probably why I'd find it very gruelling to properly source everything I've said, other than by doing what I sort of expect readers to do with the parts they find most interesting/relevant: stick 'em into Google and find out much more than than the general knowledge I've collected here. If this makes the "long answer" unsuitable for the site then that's fair enough, I'm not going to complain just because there are other bad answers out that that pass this test my answer fails :-) Dec 2, 2014 at 23:57

Tangentially relevant is that even when there are "international laws", they are subject to dispute and interpretation. Here's one well-documented example of that:

USA Today: Swiss free Roman Polanski; won't extradite director to U.S.

The Swiss mostly blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony...

The stunning decision could end the United States' three-decade pursuit of Polanski, unless he travels to another country that would be willing to apprehend him and weigh sending him to Los Angeles. France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens, and the public scrutiny over Switzerland's deliberations may dissuade other nations from making such a spectacular arrest.

The [Swiss] Justice Ministry also said that [Swiss] national interests were taken into consideration in the [Swiss] decision...

Switzerland handles about 200 extradition requests a year and only about 5% are rejected...

The government said extradition had to be rejected "considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case."

Beyond the legal confusion, Polanski's extradition is a complicated and diplomatically sensitive because of Polanski's status as a cultural icon in France and Poland...


Whether or not someone is a dissident is an extremely broad question; however, the United States does have a sizable number of extradition treaties that are in place that require the signatory countries to detain and extradite individuals. In general the United States requires the standard of dual criminality in the treaties and as per the fact sheet on the US-UK Extradition Treaty,

The standards are the same in practice:

All extradition requests between the U.S. and UK must meet the same evidentiary standard: probable cause. All requests from the U.S. must meet the standard of “reasonable suspicion” required under UK law. However, all requests from the U.S. must also be based on a charging document that meets the “probable cause” standard required under U.S. law. This is the same standard that the U.S. requires of extradition requests from the UK. The panel reviewed the evidence and concluded: “There is no practical difference between the information submitted to and from the United States.”

The relationship is one of parity:

The treaty is a “dual criminality” treaty. No one can be extradited by either country unless the offense for which extradition is requested is a crime in both countries and carries a prison sentence of at least one year.

  • OK, but that's bilateral, not international law. Also not very representative example, as UK-US agreements go way beyond bilateral agreements US has with other countries.
    – vartec
    Jun 28, 2013 at 18:31
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    @vartec - Well, international law pretty much consists entirely of of the bilateral and multilateral treaties that are signed between countries. International law in and of itself is entirely based upon the system of treaties between countries so extradition really does depend entirely upon what the treaties say.
    – rjzii
    Jun 28, 2013 at 18:57
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    extradition really does depend entirely upon what the treaties say -- and it apparently depends on how they're interpreted and implemented. For example, Hong Kong found the USA's paperwork deficient or insufficient, for long enough to allow Snowden to leave Hong Kong. Since then, the last I read, he's in the international transit area of Moscow airport, which has its own rules about what paperwork he needs to remain there and which is arguably outside Russia's borders.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 28, 2013 at 19:02
  • @ChrisW Yes, I seem to recall that most for legal purposes, the international terminals at most airports are technically outside the national boarders and you don't officially enter the country until you clear customs control.
    – rjzii
    Jun 28, 2013 at 19:05
  • @rob: so a criminal can commit theft (say) with impunity so long as they never leave the transit lounge? Jun 28, 2013 at 19:16

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