Extradition is a formal, cooperative law enforcement process between two countries in which a person who is accused or convicted of a crime in the first country, but who fled to the second country, can be legally extracted from that second country and returned to the first, where they can be processed by the justice system. Ordinarily, once a person crosses a national border, representatives from the first country cannot pursue them. People seeking to evade arrest occasionally rely upon this legal loophole and cross into a different country. Extradition counteracts this tactic by establishing cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of both the first and second countries.
As advancements in technology have enabled criminal organizations to operate on an international scale, extradition has become an increasingly vital tool for law enforcement agencies. Extradition enables countries to apprehend fugitives and other wanted criminals involved in crimes such as terrorism, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, and cybercrime even if those fugitives are hiding halfway around the world—provided they are hiding in a country with which the first country has an extradition treaty.
Extraditions between any two countries are typically regulated by an extradition treaty, which outlines the specific offenses for which a person can and cannot be extradited from that country. For example, the U.S. could not extradite draft dodgers from Canada during the Vietnam era because draft evasion was not listed as an extraditable offense on the U.S./Canada extradition treaty. However, burglary and arson were listed as eligible offenses, so anyone suspected of those crimes could be apprehended by Canadian officials and handed over to U.S. law enforcement. Extradition treaties also outline the process of requesting and processing an extradition between the two countries.
Extradition treaties are specific to any two countries. For example, an extradition treaty between the United States and Canada would be useless if a fugitive instead went south to Mexico, so the U.S. also established a separate extradition treaty with Mexico. All told, the United States has extradition treaties with 107 countries worldwide.
However, because every country must create its own extradition treaties, the United States' list of extradition treaties is likely to vary, at least slightly, from France's list, China's list, Russia's list, and so on. Likewise, any list of countries without extradition will vary depending upon the main country in question.
With 193 United-Nations-recognized countries in the world (as well as territories and observer states), there are bound to be countries that have no extradition treaty with one another. These countries often become havens for those sought by law enforcement officials. For example, the U.S. has no extradition treaty with China. This means that a person suspected of or convicted of a crime in the U.S., but who made it to China, cannot be apprehended and forced to return to the U.S. to face trial or punishment.
Even in nations with treaties in place, geopolitical issues or legal concerns can lead to disputes over extradition. For example, countries that have extradition treaties with the United States, but which are known to often refuse extradition requests anyway include Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Iceland, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. On the other hand, countries such as Spain and Yemen are known for returning fugitives even without an official extradition treaty.
As a rule, extradition is highly likely when both countries involved have an established extradition treaty. When the two countries involved lack a formal treaty, but have existing diplomatic relations, extradition is entirely possible, but with reduced likelihood. Extradition is least likely in countries that have neither a treaty nor diplomatic relations with one another. However, extradition treaties are not legally binding, so any country may choose to fulfill or deny any extradition request regardless of the existence or lack of a treaty or diplomatic relationship.
One of the most well-known stories surrounding the issue of extradition is the story of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who first flew to Hong Kong and then leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. When Snowden fled from Hong Kong to Russia (reportedly en route to Latin America), he was held at the Moscow airport for more than a month as authorities from several countries negotiated his possible safe passage or extradition.
Russia had proposed a treaty with the United States asking for the mutual extradition of criminals—however, the U.S. never agreed to the treaty, and because the U.S. had never extradited any Russian fugitives who had taken asylum in the United States, there was no established precedent to follow. Moreover, Snowden had not broken any Russian laws. Snowden was granted asylum in Russia, where he eventually found work, founded a San Francisco-based non-profit, wrote a successful book, and was joined by his girlfriend, who later became his wife. As of 2021, he continues to live in Russia.
Has Extradition with US
Diplomatic Relations with US
|Antigua and Barbuda|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|Central African Republic|
|Papua New Guinea|
|Republic of the Congo|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis|
|Sao Tome and Principe|
|Trinidad and Tobago|
|United Arab Emirates|
The United States currently has no extradition agreement with China, but other countries, such as Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Iceland, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe have also been known to refuse extradition to the US.